Death Is a New Day

Just a few months ago, I thought that dealing with my dad’s stroke recovery was the hardest thing I ever had to deal with. I was wrong. The death of my father trumps everything. Hands down.

I was closer to him than anyone in my entire life, so being stripped of the relationship, knowing that I couldn’t just call him up to talk, and realizing that I’d never see him in person again was overwhelming and devastating to say the least.

Even though it’s been nearly a month since his passing, I still haven’t gotten over it. And I never will to be honest.

But I’m trying to stay strong despite the fact that I feel as though my life has completely fallen apart. The future is full of more uncertainty than I ever thought was possible.

But this isn’t a complete sob story.

Despite the obvious emotional burden and tight time constraints, my mother, brother, and I persevered through hardship. We managed to plan a respectful funeral service and visitation that I truly believe would make my father proud. And he would be happy to see how hard we worked together as a family like never before to do the right thing.

You see, my father didn’t prepare his will before he passed away. It was tragic because he had been planning on making one and he was going to tell my mom everything she needed to know ‘just in case’ after he fully recovered from his stroke. My mom had even planned to retire this summer so they could spend more time together. Nobody thought that my dad wouldn’t be around.

When you don’t have a will, it makes it much harder when it comes to dealing with single bank accounts and other assets. My mother had to prove her relationship, and there were a lot of technicalities that created headaches. And along the way, we dealt with a lot of insensitive, idiotic assholes.

We had to do so much at a time when you just want to crawl under the covers, get drunk, and bawl your eyes out. And funeral costs are damn expensive even when you go for just the basics. It made me wonder what those who are really poor do when someone dies. I can’t even imagine. Luckily, while at first we couldn’t gain access to my dad’s single bank account, we could use his savings to pay for the funeral costs. That helped. And what also helped was that my dad had pre-paid for his cremation and chose the location in the cemetery.

Now, I’m not trying to hijack this blog and turn it into a blog about dealing with death. It will remain a feminist blog. But that also means sharing my experiences. Perhaps that will help others facing a similar situation. Writing about my dad and telling everyone how much I love(d) him helps me cope – it also helps me keep his memories alive. I never want to forget what an amazing relationship I had with him.

I’m going to share something really intimate with you all. It’s the eulogy I wrote for my father. First of all, there’s nothing I could ever write that would do him justice. He deserves so much more. Factor in how I had to write this in an hour and literally the day before the funeral visitation (because we were really that busy with preparations and running around to get everything done in time).

Obviously I wasn’t in the mood to write at all. Every time I put pen to paper, I thought, “I can’t do this.” But I kept picking up the pen I repeatedly put down. And the whole time, I was upset with how I only had such a short amount of time to write the single most important thing in my life. It wasn’t fair.

I also choked up a lot while reading it aloud at the funeral visitation. There were several times throughout the reading when I didn’t think I could continue. However, I didn’t want to bail out or give up. There are many things in life that you can back away from and be weak, but this wasn’t one of them. You get a single chance to do this, and you’ve got to do it right.

I forced myself to write and read the eulogy because I think he would’ve wanted me to do it, and it would’ve made him so happy. Plus, everyone deserves to know about him and how wonderful he was and how much he did for me and my family.

So here it is:

Anyone who knew my father well knew that he loved to talk – the cat never got his tongue and he usually had the last word. Just when you thought he was done talking, he’d jump to a new topic that would last another hour. I’d often have to cut him off because, like the Energizer Bunny, he could go on and on and on and on! And if he got on the topic of God or religion, well, you’d better get comfy.

I loved hearing the stories he shared about his childhood and his early working years when he was a waiter at various restaurants. And it made me laugh when he proudly told me about his appetite as a bachelor – milk by the carton and huge steaks.

But it was his stories of struggle and hardship that really touched my heart. At a very young age, my father had to make his way in the world practically by himself. He was in a new city with hardly any money in his pocket and with little to no parental guidance. Despite the obstacles, he not only coped, but thrived. He befriended many colourful characters, and, of course, met the most important woman in his life – my wonderful mother.

Although my dad loved to talk, he was a good listener, too. No matter how many times I came to him to complain about school or work or relationship problems, he would always be there to lend an ear and give useful advice.

In some ways, my father was your typical guy – he loved hockey games, poker, action movies, electronics, loud music, and vehicles. He even told me that while he could sleep soundly after watching a scary movie, a romantic movie would keep him up all night tossing and turning!

But in many ways, Peter Shaw wasn’t your ordinary garden variety. He wasn’t afraid to wear pink, once he let me put nail polish on his toenails, and he even let me give him a mud mask (which he enjoyed!). Yes, my dad had an impeccable sense of humour – he was always cracking jokes and seeing the light side of any situation.

My father was also very bright. When he was in rehab recovering from his second stroke, the therapist asked him to name all the animals he could think of as part of an exercise. Of course he mentioned lion, bear, and cat. But he also mentioned ocelot. The therapist didn’t know what an ocelot was prior to looking it up in the dictionary. (Even I didn’t.)

My dad may not have gone to university, but he was a lifelong student who enjoyed learning new things every day. And he taught me everything he knew about love and forgiveness, faith and strength, courage and perseverance.

But of all the lessons my father taught me, there’s one that stands out and that I feel is appropriate during a time like this. He always told me that when you’re at your lowest, you should be at your strongest.

Even during the last months of his life, my dad remained a fighter. Let us all celebrate his vibrant life, see him as an inspiration, and try to be strong in the face of this great loss.

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