In The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Mitch Albom says “Time is not what you think. Dying? Not the end of everything. We think it is. But what happens on Earth is only the beginning.”
If you knew my dad, you’d know that he’d want to be remembered with laughter in place of tears. He’d want you to remember his laugh, the wonderful, animated way he had with telling stories, and his direct way with words. He was who he was and made no apologies for it.
When I was six-years-old, my father got his nipple pierced. When I was eleven, he suggested (to my horror) that I should get mine pierced too, but that I had to wait until I reached legal age. He also advocated my desire to buy a motorcycle. When I said I wanted a tattoo, he said it was a great idea- then he went on to tell me how badly it hurt. He never said a negative word about my rainbow-colored hair or my desire to become a professional starving artist. He wanted me to be who I was, whether or not I fit in with everyone else. He always cheered me on, telling me that I had to keep going. I could do better. Just try. When I called to tell him that I had a piece on display in New York City, he was genuinely enthusiastic, which was more important to me than having made a huge step toward becoming a well-known artist.
My father openly doubted my ability to be a mother- but then, most people did. I never called him for advice because I knew anything he said would make me mad. A few months ago, he gave me the best compliment he’s ever given me. He said I was “doing all right”. Doesn’t sound like much, but it meant the world to me. When he came to visit, he always took time to talk to and play with his grandchildren. He loved them very much, and he was proud to show it.
On Father’s Day, he came out in 100+ degree heat to have his final pictures taken. He was very sick and very weak, but the pictures show only him in a gaudy shirt with fish printed all over it. We showed him the pictures the next day and he delightedly responded “Hey, I even look fat in that one!” For Father’s Day dinner, the whole family came to our house. My dad will never know how much that day meant to me. To all of us.
I learned more about my dad in the last five weeks of his life than I’d ever known. I’d always thought him invincible, but as I watched him face his own mortality I saw him cry, laugh, fight, and hope. He never gave up hope. He was not invincible- he was human, and that was so much more important.
I’ve learned that life isn’t about your religious beliefs, your clothes, your house, or your car. Life is about making an impact, loving people, and enjoying the time you have. My dad did exceptionally well at all of those things. He made lives all around him better. His memory will live on for a long, long time.