3 Life Lessons From When My Dad Died

Last week it was 24 years since my Dad died. It was completely unexpected and he was way too young. I woke up that morning like any other morning, but by noon, it had all gone south.

Life Lesson #1 –  Your entire life can change in a heartbeat.

My sister called me about 10:00 and said Dad had gone to the doctor. The doctor took one look at him and called an ambulance. By the time I found my mother to check with her, he was gone. By 4:00 pm I was on a plane to Florida.

But it wasn’t just my life that changed. I spent the better part of a week with my mom after the funeral. Most of that week is kind of a blur now, but in the end, I got to go back home. My day to day life didn’t change a whole lot. My kids went to school, I went to work, I made dinner, did laundry, and lived my life pretty much as I always had. It was my mom whose life was totally uprooted and completely changed from what it had been.

Life Lesson #2 – Life isn’t fair.

As I watched people get on the plane when I flew to Florida, I was so angry with all the old men, much older than my dad, who were barely able to walk onto the plane.  My dad, my vital, energetic dad, was dead, and these old, old men who could hardly walk, were still walking. It was so unfair. I was too numb to even cry.

No one deserves to die too young or unexpectedly, but that is beside the point. It happens. Bad people can survive into old age, innocent little children can die too young. Fairness has no place in life. If we’re lucky, we’ll come out even in the highs and lows that plague us all, but it will never be fair.

Life Lesson #3 – There are some wonderful people in the world and I hope you know your share of them. They come out of the woodwork just when you need them most.

My parents’ friends made repeated trips to the airport to pick up family. A local travel agent went to bat for me to get bereavement fares to get us to Florida. Friends and neighbors organized a funeral lunch and food donations for my mother.  My best friend in high school, her husband, and her parents drove over 100 miles to offer their condolences at the funeral.

There were many other “angels” who were there when they were needed. They were in the right place at the right time and did their very best to be helpful and loving. I’m sure most of them don’t realize what a blessing they were to me and my family when we were in need, and that I still remember their kindnesses.

Now I know that these are not unusual thoughts. We all say we know life can throw us unexpected curve balls, be miserably unfair, and yet be full of wonderful people. But the sudden death of a parent has a way of hammering those lessons home in a permanent way. You never again look at your family, your children, or your friends in quite the same way.

Twenty four year later, I still miss my dad and mourn that he has two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren that he never met. He missed the weddings of one daughter and six grandchildren. I still wish I could ask him questions about all types of subjects and get his input to help with decisions I need to make. He missed retirement with my mother, and years and years in his beloved northwoods. It’s just so unfair.

So I come back to the only things that bring some comfort. He was a religious man and loved his God. He loved my mother and he loved his children and grandchildren. He lived a good, full life. He enjoyed every day he had.

He taught us life lessons that gave us an example of how to live a full and rich life of our own. He taught us to work hard and give full measure of ourselves to our work. He set the standard for how to live with dignity, and how to treat other people with the respect and the love we all deserve as children of God. This knowledge gives me the strength to celebrate his life and know how lucky I was to have him for my dad,  even as I mourn his loss.


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