“If you wanna fly you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.” — Toni Morrison
It might feel theatrical to say “this experience has changed me,” but things really do happen that change us. I have experienced a lot of changes in my life but one day eight years ago knocked me off my feet. It was the day my dad died unexpectedly.
I remember only parts of that day. I remember that I didn’t have my phone with me, and that at some point during the workday I saw I had missed calls. A lot of missed calls. I should have known to step away from my desk. But I didn’t know that. I sat down and called my sister back.
My dad was gone. I told my boss I had to leave, grabbed my things and ran outside. I remember laying facedown in the parking lot on the hot pavement and sobbing in disbelief. My skin was being scorched by the black tar and I had little twigs and pieces of grass in my hair and on my clothes.
I willed myself into my car, went home, and curled up in a ball and cried. My closest friends came over and jumped into gear. They called the airline; they packed my bag.
My dad lived hard: He was a smoker and a drinker. (He would have given Don Draper a run for his money.) He ate a lot of red meat and canned vegetables. He thought sunbathing was exercise — and by sunbathing I mean using SPF 2 and lying by the community pool all summer. He was funny and had a sharp wit. He loved big.
My dad was a wonderful father and a terrific son. He was also a self-confessed terrible husband. Twice divorced, he never dared to marry again. He dated, as he should have being as handsome as he was — a spitting split between Robert Wagner and Gene Kelly — but never introduced another woman into my life.
When he passed away, presumably in his sleep or early in the morning, he was at peace. I have not had the same peace. I’ve been angry for a long time that he left before what I perceived as his time. I took out that anger on a lot of people in my life. Worse, I took it out on myself. I spent a year deep in grief. I spent a number of the years since in an in-between state of accepting his death and being inextricably sad about it.
Each death anniversary is different. Not easier. Just different. Most years my brain feels mushy, like I’m swimming and can’t grab ahold of one thought. Others I feel a surge of “I’m alive! Take charge of the day!” and then “I miss my Dad.” I know these feelings are normal. It’s simply taken me awhile to recognize these waves of emotion and know how to handle them.
This year, I did something new. I took a personal day. I had a great workout at the gym. Then I went to a coffee shop and had a large cappuccino with an almond croissant and read The New York Times and Wall Street Journal cover to cover. I got a manicure. I went home and cleaned my apartment. I baked cookies. I watched Netflix. I spent quality time with myself.
I never have days like this. I’m always squeezing things in, always making time for others. I’m happy to do it, as I love spending time with the people I love, but somewhere along the way I forgot how much I needed to spend time with myself. And I’ll be doing a lot more of it in the future.
I’m slowly accepting that sometimes there isn’t a reason why things happen. Sometimes they just happen. I am learning how to live my one wild and wondrous life. Just as my dad lived his.
My dad might not be with me physically but I get signs from him every now and again, so that I know he’s still looking out for me. The best part is that now I’m looking out for myself, too.
Sloane Davidson is an entrepreneur who blogs about social good and ways to give back at The Causemopolitan. She is also the author of “The Giving Manifesto.” She’s @sloane on Twitter and Instagram. A version of this essay originally ran on her blog.