Celebrating My Dad’s 16-Year Anniversary

After yesterday’s birthday reflection, today calls on further deep thoughts.

On March 28, 1997, my father died after a 4-year battle with ALS. Often referred to as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Basically, it’s a death sentence.

So just to summarize, the day after my 22nd birthday, my dad died. Yup, my birthday sucked for years.

But it doesn’t suck anymore, and let me tell you why.

Sure, I’ve accomplished a lot in these past 16 years. I got educated, married, had three kids, bought a house and held down a job. By all means, it seems like I’ve graduated into a proper adult.

But to be frank, it’s the spiritual and emotional accomplishments that I’m most proud of. After all, if I’m not “right in the head,” as my father would say, what’s the point of it all? And what kind of a mother and wife would I be?

Here’s what I’ve learned since my dad died 16 years ago today:

  • My journey may not be pretty, but it’s mine, and I have the power to make the most of it.
  • People and material things will not make me happy. My happiness is my responsibility.
  • Death of a loved one must be grieved. Your feelings must be honored, not judged, not pushed away.
  • Life changes after the death of a loved one. Accept it, and move forward.
  • Bless the past for what it taught you. Learn from what did and did not work and move forward accordingly.
  • People are afraid to talk about terminal illness and death. Let’s change that. Let’s talk openly to our kids about illness and death.
  • Blaming others and holding grudges only brings personal anguish. Forgiveness of others and of yourself equates to freedom.
  • Everyone in your life is placed there for a reason.
  • Your feelings will lead you to your soul. Listen to them, honor them, and follow them.

Today I celebrate the 16 years that have passed since my father, Jim Schafer, died. Tonight I will make his favorite meal of roast beef with all the ‘fixins. And I will raise my wine glass to the man who taught me: “Don’t marry some sh*t for brains.”

Seriously though, that is good advice to pass on. :)

My dad’s brave battle with ALS was quite a way to go! I don’t wish terminal illness on anyone, but I would be remiss to discount the blessings from his illness and death.

And I would encourage anyone going through a painful loss to embrace the grieving process, and see it as a gift that will lead you to inner-peace and freedom.

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