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In loving memory

Photo credit: Yuk K. Chan

Three years ago, earlier this month, my father passed away after a long fight with primary liver cancer. It’s hard to think it’s already been three years when it feels like just yesterday that time stood still and I was convinced the painful void in my life would never lessen.

The month of January tends to be a time of reflection for most people, and also a time for hope for the next year to come. For me, my thoughts go back even deeper as I remember the wonderful man who once was, and the legacy he left behind.

I’m not sure what is compelling me to write this post – but something is pushing me to. I suppose it may be because there has been a lot of loss in my family as well as for friends I care a great deal about over the last few years. Although we all cognitively know that dying is a natural part of living, it never seems to ever feel very natural.

I was recently looking back at some old ramblings I had written down over the years, and a quote stood out for me:

“… when motivated by fear, you are not able to see the clear path – whether in death or in life.”

That line was written by Corinne O’Kelly, the wife of Gene O’Kelly, in Gene’s book “Chasing Daylight“. Gene was the chairman and chief executive for KPMG international at the time, and was at the height of his career. He was only fifty-two years old when he was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. He passed away months later, before he was able to finish writing his book. His wife, Corinne, ended up finishing the book for him. If you haven’t read the book, I’d highly recommend it. It’s a wonderful book. But back to the above statement. At the time when I read the book, unbeknownst to me, my own father would be diagnosed with advanced stage primary liver cancer only two weeks later. However, even without that knowledge, that phrase stuck out for me. I wrote it down. I would later refer to it over the weeks and months of his illness, and even in the years after he departed, I still sometimes come back to those words.

The reason I find Corinne’s words powerful is because regardless of if we are living with a threat in our lives or not, fear is a common motivator – or perhaps more aptly – a demotivator in our lives. In the face of death and loss, it is even greater… more intense and glaringly larger than life. In the absence of death and loss, it is still there: a perpetual voice and force in our lives. We cannot miss it, or avoid it. By being aware of it and the impact of fear on our judgment is enough. In those moments, I do believe it’s what we do with it that counts the most. And that is where courage comes in. What molds us is not the fear, but what we do in spite of the fear. So long as we hold on to that, I believe we have won.

So to my father… the original eulogy I had delivered at his funeral. His life, particularly the grace with which he faced his own death, resonated with this concept greater than any I have ever had the honour to witness in my life. We love and miss you. Rest in peace.

My father was a life-lover. He loved to travel, to experience new things and adventures, and he would take us along every chance he could. He awakened in us the same love of life, travel and sense of adventure. He taught us to see the breath-taking wonder of simple things – of small things – of the things that truly mattered. From the clapping of birch tree leaves in the wind to the sheen of light within dewdrops or the bubbles we would blow together, my father would show us. He often said that the best things in life are free, the trick is noticing. Falling stars, northern lights, freshly mowed grass on a summer’s day – these were all to be discovered and experienced.

He also taught us many lessons… like how working hard, sticking with something, and being patient would lead to good things… Like planting a yard full of cherry blossoms that would pay-off year after year when our backyard was filled with perfect pink petals and sweet smells. He taught us that scary things like riding a bike were not so scary because he was there to catch us if we needed. The trickiest part was getting back on as many times as it took for us to overcome the fear. He taught us that every situation required understanding and curiosity to find out the real problem and to find the real solution – like when the beautiful fuzzy bees I captured kept dying… because I used screw-on lids instead of pantyhose and they lost all their air. And so, in this way, I learned to also notice the small things and small lessons through life.

My father meant the world to us. We could not have possibly been blessed with a better father, mentor, role model, and support.

Daddy, you guided us both in words and in practice with the way you lived your life. You walked the talk. You were a man who walked with grace, dignity, respect, noble character, generosity and a passionate, adventurous spirit. And for me, I have always modeled myself after you. I wanted to be just like you. As a young child, and even now. You have been, are, and will always be my guiding compass in the way I live my life.

From the moments of my first steps towards the ocean that scared me to death, through riding that formidable bike I was so afraid to fall off of, and even through bigger things like a decision to go to Afghanistan, to pursue another degree, and lately, to follow my career in a place that took me away from you, you have been there. Always with a steady hand, a ready heart and all the love in the world. And it is with your guidance, wisdom, strength and support that I have learned to overcome my fears, to keep getting back on that bike, and to do everything with hard work, diligence, and patience to the best of my ability.

You always told us to be strong, be gracious, be honest, and to never give up. You spoke of the simple things in life and to focus on those things. And there has not been any time more than now that I have thought on your words.

We would have done anything in the world to have taken your cancer away. Even now, I cannot believe that you are no longer with us. But, I also know that you have gone to a better place. And we are not at an end, but another beginning… and when our time comes, we will also join you there.

We love you so much. We will live our lives as you have. With courage, light, joy, integrity, hope, and faith… but most of all, with love.

We miss you already.

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Roben Nieuwland #

    Touching words Vivian, I feel for your loss. Just remember that you are part of his legacy, and he will live on through your memories and posts 🙂
    big hugs going out to ya

    January 21, 2011
    • vivve #

      Thanks, Roben. It felt right to write about this. There have been so many people that have lost loved ones over the last few months, and being that time of year, death and loss has been on my mind lately. I hope we get to see you very soon.

      January 23, 2011
  2. Anonymous #

    I just finished reading E. O’Kelly’s book today. It offered me great comfort and healing. I lost my father this past May 2011. Dad was 79 and although he beat his battle with cancer and was ok just months before his death, we lost him to other medical reasons. Like you, my dad left me with so many positive memories, faith, endurance and positivity that I will have with me for the rest of my life.

    I was also captivated by the statement you shared above about fear. The book and its great insights has helped me to realize that we only have today, and this moment in time. We can’t live like there will always be a tomorrow.

    Thank you for sharing and I hope that time and faith will heal your wounds. We still have mom to love and care for. And that is where my dad would want us to focus our love and energy!

    January 1, 2012
    • vivve #

      Thank you for your heartfelt words and for sharing. I was really moved. Writing is a sort of healing for me, and I confess I haven’t been writing nearly as much as I’d like lately, but it’s nice to know that my words are able to reach someone and still resonate although time has passed.

      I’m very sorry to hear about your loss and wish you the same time, faith, and healing. It doesn’t seem possible – I know I didn’t think it was when I lost my father – but it does get better with time. We never stop remembering, and life is really never the same, but I think I prefer it like that.

      Here’s to the memories, love, moms, dads, and to living in the now.

      January 3, 2012

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