It’s been five weeks since my father passed, and I still have moments of disbelief. I ask myself, “Is this real? Can this really be real?” I suppose that’s to be expected since my father’s death was so unexpected. When I would consider the longevity of my dad’s life, I would envision him living well into his nineties, perhaps even outliving me or my sisters. His parents are still living. He has a family history of long life. So why, how is he not still with us?
My dad was only 64 years old. He was healthy. He took good care of himself: eating right, staying active and even walking outside on his lunch breaks at work. Several years ago, his doctor warned him that his blood sugar levels were in the “pre-diabetic range” and that his cholesterol was slightly elevated. This news sparked concern in him and caused a drastic change in the foods that he ate. He cut out all processed sugar and practically eliminated high-fat, high-cholesterol foods from his diet. He was sure to eat plenty of natural foods including fruits, veggies and herbal teas.
Those are the rules, right? Healthy eating + regular exercise = healthy heart and long life. He rarely drank and never smoked. His wife, a loving nurse, saw to it that my father had regular check-ups and that blood levels were kept in normal range. By diet and exercise alone, my dad kept his cholesterol and sugar levels exactly where they needed to be.
My dad was so conscientious about his health and self-care. That’s why the day we found out that he fell from his bike, likely dead before hitting the ground, was such a shock to all of us. My dad was out doing what he loved, riding his bike on a beautiful, sunny Alabama day at Wheeler Wildlife Reservation Nature Trails — too far away for paramedics to reach him in a timely manner. Would it have even mattered if they had gotten to him sooner? He was out riding with his good buddy, something they often did together.
My dad, a lover of nature, so fascinated and curious about its beauty and wonder, spent much of his free time walking on trails, kayaking lakes and rivers, and riding his bike — exploring this beautiful world provided to us by God. With his level of activity, healthy diet and avoidance of smoking and alcohol, that leaves us wondering, how did this happen? How did my dad suddenly and unexpectedly drop dead from a heart attack? How? Why? I mean, if he took such good care of himself, and his heart betrayed him anyway, what’s the point, right? What’s the point of following all the rules, dieting, exercising, in hopes of preserving your life if your body can just give out any random day, without warning or notice?
The truth is, it is impossible to understand how or why. I will never understand. And life is fragile. It can be taken from us, extinguished, at any moment. None of us are promised anything when it comes to how long we will live. That is a fact that I thought I was very well aware of before; we aren’t guaranteed life, not for ourselves, not for our loved ones. No one is guaranteed that they will be alive tomorrow. I thought I understood that fact, but now that I am living that reality — and the brutal awareness of that truth — how I see the world, and my perspective on life, has changed.
We aren’t promised tomorrow so now is the time to decide what is most important. For me, when I am between moments of sadness, grief and shock — yes, still shock — I focus on what is important in my life: my husband, my children, my remaining family and friends. I go outside and look at the beauty. I listen to the sounds, feel the outside air, and thank God for His gifts. I force myself to be aware of the moment I am in, and just feel appreciation for all that I have.
Even though my dad’s efforts proved to be futile, I am still going to exercise and attempt to make mostly healthy food choices. I will follow the rules and hope for a long life. But since I can’t predict how long I will live, or guarantee that I will live to be 100, I am going to slow down, focus on the ones I love, pay attention to them, love them, and enjoy the beauty of the world around me. And I will love my dad, think of him often and dream about the day that I will be with him again. I love you, Dad. I will miss you every day for the rest of my life. Until we meet again.