Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Big Change(s)

Life changes all the time, but often the changes are so small, so incremental, that you don't even notice they are happening. It's rare for a single day, event, or experience to change everything or to truly qualify for "nothing was ever the same." For me, one of those days occurred on this date 18 years ago. The day my father died. I consider that event to be the worst thing that's ever happened in my life. I also hope it remains the worst thing that ever happened because losing a parent when you are 15 years old, a really great parent at that, changed not just my life in that I would never interact with my Dad ever again, but also the person I would become, my beliefs about life and faith, my emotional systems and responses, my outlook on life. So many of the choices I made since might have completely different if my father hadn't died on March 31, 1997. It was the spring of my sophomore year of high school just days after I had been elected president of my junior class, months before I was scheduled to visit Japan for a high school exchange program and two years before I would make another life-alternating decision to leave home to attend Vanderbilt. That was an interesting time being 15 years old. I wasn't a child anymore, but not an adult either. I was still forming my sense of self and confidence. Years later, I read about the effects on young girls on losing or not having a father figure during those crucial formative years. I'm now grateful I didn't go into even worse depression or acted out in destructive ways.
Losing my Dad changed how I manage my emotions. I tried for years to repress them, to avoid feeling things because I had spent so much time and energy feeling the loss of my father. In some ways, anything else that would happen could not register nearly as high or intensely on my emotional spectrum. Finishing high school, leaving for college -- none of that made me jump for joy the way I would have expected to before. Of course, everything I've done in my life since somehow relates back to my Dad. The decision to leave for a school far away from home was inspired by father's own journey to leave Mexico and start over in another country with no resources. My father's greatest gift to me was setting me on a path to become educated, to pursue a fulfilling career, to love my family more than anything else, to have in faith in God regardless of difficult circumstances, to enjoy life and feel grateful for all of God's blessings, to love completely, to never be afraid to be generous or go out of your way for someone else.
Anniversaries are important because they help you mark the time, the little changes that happened while you were sleeping. But of course, the grief, the memories, the shifts in my heart and mind I carry with me everyday. I am who I am because of those experiences, because of the person my Dad was, because he left so early from my life. My father was one the greatest gifts I've received. I'm grateful to have a father who gave me so much -- gifts I will enjoy for the rest of my life. 

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