On Daddy, Death and Darkness
Out of the greatest darkness comes light. I never fully understood that statement until last year. It was during the time when I released my first book that I realized that experiencing a great loss is just the beginning of something truly great being born.
I was told a tale about the beliefs of the natives who resided in my home of Whistler, Canada years ago. They believed that our precious valley contained the energy of transformation. The greatest transformations in life are birth and death. In 20 years of living in this valley, I have attended far too many funerals, and I’m afraid to drink the water, as I might get pregnant. However, the darkest times of my life have led to some of my greatest passions and experiences.
August 28, 1998 was the day I got the call saying that my father had died. All I remember was crumbling on the living room floor and my friend driving me to my sister’s home. In truth, I had lost him years before. I was only 19 when I found the note in his sock drawer that was written to himself, telling him who he was and where he lived. By the time I was 25, he didn’t know who I was. I will never forget the day I kissed him goodbye and walked out the door. As I left, I overheard him talking to my mother, “She was an awful nice girl, Jean. Who was she?” I cried all the way home. However, over his ten-year battle with Alzheimer’s, there were those brief moments of clarity and connection when I knew that he was still in there. A few days before he died, we had a moment. I told him I had bought a new car (my love of fast cars and expensive shoes I inherited from him). For a brief moment, his eyes cleared and he asked, “Is it fast?” I chuckled and replied, “Yes, Dad, it’s fast and it corners like it’s on rails.” He smiled and replied, “Good girl, drive it fast and drive it lots.” Then he was gone again . . . and three days later he was dead.
In the year that followed his death, I drove that Mazda RX7 so often and so fast, I am surprised I didn’t end up in jail after so many speeding tickets. He must have been watching over me, though, considering the number of times I redlined that car while crying and never got a ticket.
When I lost him, it seemed there was no point to my life. Everything I had worked for – my business, my life – was for him. I wanted him to be proud of his little girl, and to see that I was successful. But I was too late. He never saw my salon/spa or got to experience my life and friends. I never even took him out for a steak dinner. I had no purpose any more, there was nothing driving me. Nine months later, I organized a staff trip to Tofino on Vancouver Island, and for some reason it was a surf trip, even though I had never surfed before. But my ex-boyfriend had surfed and I had always thought it was cool. Two things happened on that trip. The first thing was aboard the ferry when I happened to pick up a book called “Talking to Heaven” by James Van Praagh. This book changed my life and helped me comprehend how my father felt before he died. It made me understand that he was still with me, but only in a form that I could not see. The second thing that happened was that I took a surf lesson. I was petrified of the ocean and the waves scared me to death. I will never forget my first paddle out, I was so afraid of the waves that I just kept paddling and paddling, and the instructor had to yell at me to stop because I was paddling out to sea. I was so freaked out in that lesson that I barely remember standing up on my board for a two-second ride on some white wash. But while I was in the water and scared to death, I could hear my Dad saying, “You can do it.” When I came out of the water that day, I looked back at the ocean and thought; “I promise you Dad, I’ll make you proud and I’ll be a surfer one day.”
After that day, the surfing never stopped. Six months later, in November 1999, two of my closest friends and I boarded a plane for Costa Rica. My buddy had just left the hospital two weeks earlier after having had massive back surgery, but we were determined to spend the turn of the millennium somewhere warm and safe. Our thinking was that if the world ended, at least we could eat coconuts, fish for food and be warm. Six weeks in the water and I still sucked badly. But I wanted to be a surfer, so I kept trying. In November of 2001, I discovered Sayulita when I went alone for a month to learn to surf. My soul fell in love with the town and even more so with the surfing. It was during that particular month that I knew my daddy was proud of me, and even though I wasn’t officially a surfer yet, I was trying (I still really sucked at surfing). It wasn’t until March 2012, on a day when I thought the waves were going to be small, but when I got to the break, it was huge. I almost didn’t paddle out because I was so scared. If my former surf instructor and girlfriend hadn’t kicked my ass and told me to get out there, I would have chickened out. As I started to paddle out, I was freaking out as I tried to get over the waves. I heard my dad say, “You can do this.” I dropped into the biggest waves of my life that day. That was the day I officially became a surfer.
What I Learned from My Father’s Life
My father was far from perfect (that’s a whole other story, though), but he was my Daddy and I was his little girl. I inherited a few things from him besides a love of expensive shoes, and I am not kidding about that! In 1978, he owned over 50 pairs of custom-made leather shoes that cost 400 dollars or more a pair – you do the math. His clothing and shoe closet was twice the size of my Mother’s! I also inherited his love of fast cars, and I got his flat feet and long, black eyelashes. He taught me to play backgammon, to appreciate a good martini, and to work hard for what you want, but the greatest thing he taught me was when I was eight years old. He loved to ‘play the ponies’ and on Sundays he would always take me to the horse races. He taught me how to bet and play the odds, and yes, he made me do it with my allowance money. Looking back, I realize that it was kinda weird for him to teach his daughter how to gamble, but he was teaching me math and statistics, and that life is always a gamble – all great life skills. One Sunday, I wanted to bet on a horse in the tenth and largest race called the Triactor. The horse was a long shot and my daddy told me that I was going against the odds and most likely would not win. I argued and said that I really, really liked the name of the horse. He shook his head and said, “Well, if you’re going to bet on a long shot, then bet big, because you’re greatest losses can also be your biggest wins!” I smiled and took all my money, a whole ten dollars, and went with him to the gate to place my bet. (Yes, they let eight-year-olds place bets back then. Maybe it was because my dad was a regular). Of course, my intuition was right. The horse won and I cashed in and won a hundred dollars. My Dad never doubted me again and always bet on what I suggested, but I don’t know if he ever won. What I do know from my father is that when you really feel something in your gut, or that little voice in your head keeps nagging at you to do it then do it. And when you do do it, bet big, because if you’re not afraid to lose, then you will always win!
What I Learned from My Father’s Death
My father has been upstairs for 16 years now and I truly believe I have learned more from him since he died then I learned while he was alive. He is the light touch on my shoulder when I need support and the nudge I need when I need to be guided or pushed in the right direction. When he physically left the world I entered the darkest time of my life, however, the self-growth that his passing stimulated truly led me to one of my greatest passions – surfing. My journey to becoming a surfer has truly transformed my entire life and it never ends, just as the waves never end. Out of darkness comes light . . . out of light comes a journey . . . out of a journey comes passion . . . and out of passion comes true stoke!
A Tip on Grief and Etiquette
My belief is that grief is one of our greatest emotions and I think the only emotion bigger than it is love. Grief even beats out fear in my book. Why? Because grief is relentless, and when you are in the midst of it, you feel like there is absolutely no way out. It doesn’t matter what people say to try to cheer you up, or what you do to make yourself feel better, the deep sadness just hovers over you. It’s like being wrapped up in a thick, woollen blanket. I was so young when my dad died and no one knew what to say to me. Everyone just said sorry, or said nothing at all. Especially my guy friends, they had no idea what to say. At least my girlfriends gave me hugs. A few years later, my buddy lost his Dad and that’s when I knew exactly what to say, and I have been saying the same thing ever since to anyone who loses someone. Instead of saying sorry, I say:
“Be kind to yourself. Be kind to yourself for at least 12 to 18 months. Allow yourself to do whatever you want; indulge yourself, do whatever it takes to help lift the grief, because the more you do for yourself the easier it will become. Don’t ignore it (this is what I did, I said I was fine and kept on working to distract myself), for if you do it will come back and bite you in the ass and you will end up on your bathroom floor in the fetal position crying for days (what happened to me three months after my father’s death). Allow yourself to be sad for as long as you need to be, but don’t fake being happy. Just be sad and trust that darkness will eventually lead to light. Remember, the soul that has left you will always be there for you. You may not see or feel their physical form, but they are always there.