In the blink of an eye. In a New York Minute. In a flash. Literally, in a heartbeat. Your life could change, never to resemble what it was before. Ten years ago, it happened to my dad. Like any other day, he went to work. Unlike any other day, we received a call several hours later saying that he had collapsed and they were taking him to the emergency room.
Once we arrived, they ushered us to a family waiting room. I had been in this very same room a few weeks before when I came to see a co-worker whose grandson passed away after a tragic accident. I knew that his was the “bad news” room. The doctors came in and told us that my dad had suffered an aortic dissection. The main artery to his heart had torn and he needed emergency surgery. John Ritter died of this same thing. About 60% of people with his type of dissection don’t survive surgery. Thankfully, he did. We waited days for him to wake up, not knowing how much damage was done or what he would be like when he woke up. It was determined that while his body was naturally trying to heal the tear in his aorta, clots had traveled to his brain and caused a stroke. He would be partially paralyzed on one side of his body.
The dad that I knew left us that day. A new one woke up days later. After seven months in the hospital and various rehab centers, he came home. My mom retired earlier than she expected to care for him. While there are immeasurable challenges that he faces every day (and certainly my Mom, too, as his caregiver), there are some pretty amazing lessons that I have learned from this life-altering experience.
Life may not go according to plan. In fact, it rarely does. It’s great to plan for the future but it is probably a great idea to have a back-up plan. It’s also a good idea to have a back-up plan for your back-up plan. Flexibility is critical. When life throws something unexpected at you, the real test will be how you respond.
The next lesson that I’ve learned is that you have to make the most of every day. You’ve probably heard it before when Robin Williams said it in Dead Poet’s Society. Carpe diem! Seize the day! You never know when it may be your last or the last time you get to spend with someone you love. If there’s something you really want to say, a trip you want to go on, a class you want to take, a book you want to write, a friend you have been meaning to call or have lunch with, forgiveness you need to seek or extend, an adventure you want to have-do it. Do it now. Make it happen. Don’t wait. You may think that you’ll do those things later, or that you have plenty of time but what if you never make it that far?
Last, don’t waste time mourning the life that didn’t turn out the way you wanted. You have to move forward with the life you have. Yes, I wish my dad were healthy and that he’d never gotten sick. But, this is the hand we were dealt. I feel blessed that 10 years later, he’s still here. My oldest son, Kyle was just four when he got sick. Over that past 10 years, he’s been able to have a great relationship with his PaPa and my dad has enjoyed watching him grow up. If my dad had left us 10 years ago, he never would have met my wonderful husband or my six-year-old son, Griffin.
My dad has many health challenges and it’s tough for him and my mom. But, we are lucky to have him. We are thankful for every day that we get to spend with him because it feels like a bonus, knowing that we almost lost him. I don’t wonder about what “could have been” because the fact is that this is how life turned out. For me, wondering how it could have been different only leads to pain. I have to accept what cannot be changed and move on.
My dad getting sick was definitely a life-altering experience for my family. It was a complete shock, since he had always been healthy and it had no warning signs. Of all that I have learned, I know that my mom is my hero and is stronger than she gives herself credit for being. Through it all, my awesome brother, sister-in-law, mom, husband, and I have pulled together and make a pretty good team. Life isn’t always fair. But you have to live it in such a way that when the rules change, you’re ready for whatever comes your way. Most importantly, look for the good in the bad. It’s always there. Sometimes, you may have to adjust your vision.