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7 Life Lessons Learned from Loss

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By Tara Ballard

To say that the last few weeks have been harrowing would be a huge understatement. Many of you know of my dad’s health struggles from previous blog posts of mine, and unfortunately, he passed away on 8/7/12. Dad was my best friend, my greatest teacher and my biggest cheerleader. I won’t lie, losing him was devastating. I miss him terribly. But, I truly believe there are lessons to be learned from all experiences, and this one is no different. So, I share with you today what I have learned or have been reminded of these past weeks – either from the experience in general or from my Dad’s infinite wisdom.  I put these out there as much for myself as for anyone as a cathartic outlet for my somewhat bottled-up emotions :).

  1. Family comes first, plain and simple. There are so many times over the years that I put my work and other things ahead of my family. I was just “too busy” to make time to see or call them. These past two weeks taught me that there is NOTHING more important than spending time with loved ones. I am so grateful that I was able to move closer to Dad six years ago, and have been able to have so many happy times with him. I am also extremely thankful that I was able to be with him every day during his last 2.5 weeks (and his very last moment) on this earth. Still, I do feel like I could have done better. Lesson learned.
  2. This Too Shall Pass. Boy, I cannot tell you how many times I uttered these words over the past two weeks. Dad’s declining condition had us all on an emotional roller coaster, and I really had to take things day by day; and sometimes, even minute by minute. He would have a really bad night, but then rally a bit during the day, so it was a constant see-saw of thinking he was getting worse and then better. And now that he’s gone, and the grieving process is in full force, I continue to remind myself that there are brighter days ahead.  Dad would not want me to sit and be sad all the time, so I am staying busy and am back to my routine…it feels good, but I know it will take time to feel totally normal again.
  3. There is no right or wrong way to deal with pain. In keeping with the above, my emotions have been running the gamut for the past month or so. Anger/bitterness, depression/sadness, hopelessness, helplessness, happiness – you name it, I’ve felt it! I am usually a pretty even-tempered person, so this has been a bit difficult to deal with. But I let myself feel the emotions as they came – there was nothing I could do to stop them anyway! But, rationale would set in, and I knew deep down that it was ok to feel what I was feeling. I turned, and continue to turn, to my faith for comfort.
  4. Don’t be afraid to question authority.  Disclaimer!!! I in no way mean any disrespect by the next few comments!! I am so very grateful for all the medical professionals in this world, and especially for the ones who helped my dad for so long. That said, we live in a time where you absolutely have to be your own health care advocate. I think sometimes we put medical professionals up on a pedestal as some kind of God-like being, and we just take what they say as gospel – or we are too intimidated to ask questions or voice concerns. You absolutely must take charge of your or your loved one’s health care. As an example, Dad was almost scheduled for a very painful procedure the day before he passed. It wasn’t until we questioned things that we learned that the results of this procedure would not change his prognosis.  Another example – when my Dad was diagnosed with Primary (AL) Amyloidosis in 1995, doctors at a very well-renowned medical establishment gave him two years to live. Well, I could not accept that, and I set about learning everything I could about his disease and the different treatment options available. Long story short, he was accepted into a clinical trial in 1996 which saved his life.

    Questioning authority respectfully and not always accepting the status quo is imperative in our world. Research options, be assertive, don’t be afraid to sound “stupid” (all things I used to feel). And sometimes, when those things don’t work, throw in a little badassness :). While I kept my cool 99% of the time over the past weeks, I did have to play the bitchy card once or twice just to be heard.

  5. Live by the Golden Rule. Dad lived this, in both his professional and personal life. Sure, he had his moments, as we all do; but he built a successful career with this Rule as a firm foundation.  It’s so simple a concept, but so few do it.
  6. Be Grateful. There’s that word again, but gratitude changes everything. In every single thing and in every single moment, there is something to be grateful for. It is this that makes the rough times a little more bearable. Among many other things, I am grateful that my Dad’s death has brought me even closer to my stepmom and her family, and that I was able to reconnect with friends from long ago.
  7. Life is short, eat strawberries. This sounds silly, but I use it as an analogy of my old all or nothing mindset. I was so caught up in my old competitor way of thinking, that I eliminated things like fruit – something that I really enjoy – from my diet (too many carbs, you know!).  How ridiculous is that? Seriously, each day is a gift to be treasured. None of us knows when our time is up, and I intend to do things TODAY that I might have otherwise put off until I “had more time” or “had more money”, or “got up the nerve” etc. etc. I’m not talking about going nuts, but just celebrating life NOW.  And if that includes eating strawberries, then so be it :).

Lots of love, Tara

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