|St. Peter's Basilica, Rome|
With due consideration, I thought I should dedicate a short journal entry to the readers that have suffered through my last ten months of misery and leave you with some resolution, some of that "closure" society seems to believe we should have. In my opinion "closure" is over-rated; no person's story ever really ends, it's just their direct participation that stops. None of us really ever knows where it all will end, so closure never really can occur. I have some anecdotes and some advice for everybody.
|It will be a long and lonely path.|
To the Bereaved:
Some of you share my road with me, hoping to find some help from a kindred spirit. I am not sure if I really can help anyone. Hell, I'm having trouble helping myself (hence the journal entry after I promised I was finished). On the other hand, its true that I now understand more about surviving the death of Calista than I did ten months ago.
I know that it indeed does get better. That sharp, nauseating wave of grief rarely rears up it's ugly crest anymore and the constant undertow just barely pulls at my heart these days. When I do break down in tears, it is usually controlled, without the choking sobs and breathless mumbling that used to fill the silence in our house. Roni cries every day still, but often there is some trigger involved (or I have foolishly left her alone with free time on her hands). I still shed a tear or two each day; but usually only during those quiet, solitary minutes it takes me to drive home after a long day at work. Both of us still can laugh, we still enjoy a good book or a good movie, and there are some vague plans for the future. Making definite plans for the future seems somehow disrespectful of Calista, like we have really moved on.
Of course, both of us have changed and we will never be the same again. There is a great, gaping hole in our life that we will never be able to fill. Both Roni and I have come to terms with that void; there is always going to be an underlying sadness to our lives, but that is just our new reality. I compare it to a person who has suffered an amputation of a limb: the amputee eventually learns to live with his prosthesis, but he unlikely to ever consider his life better because of his loss. As I stated last post, our lives are "fractionated" now; no matter how great things may be from now on, they will never compare favourably to what we believe could have been.
I no longer sweat the small stuff. This change has been both good and bad. My great loss has helped me get my priorities straight and I realize now that beyond family and friends, everything else is trivialities. Money is nothing more than a tool, possessions are just toys and if everything was taken from me tomorrow, I would survive. I have survived the worst thing I could ever imagine and I'm still here. Certainly I appreciate everything I have now, but I know that no "thing" is truly important.
I no longer fear death in the least; I only fear leaving Roni unprotected and unsupported if I die before her. On the other hand, I am terrified of ever becoming physically or financially dependent on anyone; it would be a drain on the Memorial Scholarship fund and this I cannot allow. I literally live to work now.
My altered value system has changed the way I look at my fellow man. I want to help people now more than ever, especially young people near Calista's age. I want to mentor youth and help them develop a passion for life rather than ambition for fame or fortune.
I find I need to reach out and touch other parents who have also lost their children suddenly; somehow contacting these lost souls makes me feel like I have honoured Calista in some small way. On the other hand, I have lost much of my empathy for others when it comes to what I consider trivial problems.
So many people are the victims of their own lack of priorities. I have one distant relative who is allowing himself to fall into an overwhelming depression simply because his business is failing. He has a wonderful, supportive wife and beautiful children, and yet money and professional standing are all that he is concerned about. His real treasure (his family) is standing at his side, ready to support him, but still he worries about nothing but filthy lucre.
I have chastised clients who are constant victims. One young, healthy client was despondent because she could not afford to treat her sick pet. She was barely surviving on her monthly welfare cheque. After one particularly long conversation I basically told her that if she did not like her life, she was certainly young enough to change it. I realized at the time how out of line my condescending remark really was, but even now I agree with my assessment. If your life is not turning out how you hoped it would, sit down, evaluate what you can change and start re-writing your life story today. Stop waiting for someone else to fix your world for you. Personally, there is only one thing I really wish I could change in my life and all the wishing in the world will never bring Calista back.
My marriage has changed subtly. Roni and I were always close. We rarely fought and when we did argue, the spats were more about silence and isolation than shouting and confrontation. On the rare occasions we did fight, the scrap would be abbreviated and subdued followed by two to three days of silence. There was rarely ever any victor in our fights; just mutual compromise with no real settlement of the underlying issue. Now we tend to have involved discussions about ongoing problems followed by plan formulation and implementation. We have become partners in business and in life; isolated by our tragedy. Unfortunately that very isolation has made both Roni and I co-dependant; we are "complete" only when we are together, bracing each other against the outside world. In our home there are secrets spoken in the quiet of the night that never can be shared and only we two will ever truly understand.
I guess my advice to the fellow bereaved is to stand firm and know that things will get better. On the other hand, you need to understand that your life is changed forever and you have to find a new reality you can endure for the rest of your living days.
|It was a family picture. She cropped us out.|
We laughed about it, but found it mildly insulting.
To Present and Future Parents
Certainly I could have done without the pain of this last year, but then I would have had to miss the dance. If someone could give me back this last 22 years, even knowing how it would all end, I would do it all over again without a thought. I would never pass up those years as a father; they were the absolute best years of my life.
I guess that is my message to everyone that is thinking about having children. Being a parent is the best part of life; it will pass far too quickly but it should never be passed up entirely. Don't ever believe that a career or a string of pets will ever replace children; these are just placebos for parenthood and are weak seconds.
I hope I have some worthwhile advice for current parents. My Calista was everything I ever wanted in a daughter and I like to believe Roni and I had a lot to do with how she turned out. I know I was excited about her future; she was destined to be somebody unique and special and that is a great thing.
Parents should never try to force a child into any predetermined mold or planned future. Its our job to explore opportunities for our children, find what they most enjoy and then support them every way we can so they excel at what they love. Certainly there are times we need to push our children; sometimes we need to convince them to try new things against their will and sometimes we need to persuade them to stick with old things despite flagging interest. On the other hand, parents also need to recognize a failed effort or a lost cause when they see one. It makes no sense trying to fit a round peg in a square hole; trying to hammer that peg home will just frustrate you and damage the child.
A parent needs to accept their children for what they are, but also recognize that our children are not perfect. Its kind of like the old AA code: change what needs changing, accept what cannot be changed, and pray that you are able to tell the difference between the two.
As much as I hoped that Calista would be an science and math wonder, I realized by grade 10 that in her heart she was an artist. That was her basic essence, so I just accepted it and dedicated my efforts to helping her excel as an artist. I approached Jack Cowin and got her the best tutoring anyone could imagine.
In a million years my Calista was never going to become a "super-model"; while tall and certainly uniquely beautiful, she was not willowy, thin or angular like most models. Muscular, voluptuous and Amazonian were far better descriptors for my girl. Neither Roni nor I ever suggested she diet. Exercise yes, eat healthy foods certainly, but the word diet was never said to my girl.
|Amazon, not Elf.|
So many parents seem so preoccupied with their child's sex life: chastity, sexual orientation and traditional marriage often seem more important to parents than true happiness. As parents I am not sure Roni and I ever really cared about any of that. To this day I don't know if my daughter died a virgin or not (to me it would be yet another tragedy if she had). I know marriage was not a priority to her, and as far as sexual orientation goes, the entire subject never even crossed my mind. It's not that I considered it impossible that Calista could have been "gay": its that I didn't care one way or the other. If Calista had brought home a favoured "girlfriend" I would have victimized the poor soul with fatherly suspicions the same way I vicitimized many "boyfriends" before. I would have been an equal opportunity interrogator.
Accept your children for what they are, help them become all they can be and treasure every moment you have with them. There are FAR worse things than a child turning out differently than you always hoped. Believe me on that one.
To Other People's Children:
I loved being a parent and I am afraid I just cannot stop that urge to give fatherly advice. I am sure that many parents consider me more than a little cracked and would appreciate it if I just kept my mouth shut, but I see so many young people that need advice and support and so many parents abdicating that role that I feel obliged to step in.
Do everything in moderation except having passion for life.
Remember that there is a difference between passion and ambition. If you profit because you love something, that is passion. If you love something because you profit from it, that is ambition. Also try to remember that profit is not always about money; some things profit the soul.
Be passionate about everything. Work hard, play well, love frequently, remember you can never have too many friends and finally, while you don't have to like your family, you do have to love your family. Even when doing those chores in life that you hate you should focus on doing them well once rather than repeatedly doing them poorly.
Relish your own individuality. Don't feel obliged to fit in to any clique. If your friends don't like you for who you are, they are not your friends. Never do anything just to fit in, especially if it involves the words "pissed", "stoned" or "jacked". As much as Hollywood portrays drunks and stoners as harmless and charming, sober bystanders just find them irritating and obnoxious. Nobody is ever attractive hunched over a toilette bowl after too many drinks. And just skip the whole hard drugs scene; needle tracks and secondary diseases are just plain ugly (and pathetic).
On the other hand, don't work at being unique. You are who you are and everybody can spot a "poser". I see people, both young and old, artificially being "conspicuously different". If you actually have to work at being unique, its time to find a new you. People will see through your false front and will be turned off. There is something to be said for some degree of conformity. If nothing else, it helps keep you employed so you can afford to explore your unique self in your free time.
Travel and embrace other cultures. Educate yourself before you leave for that foreign destination (and know more than the one phrase "I don't speak Greek". Calista should have learnt at least "Where is the bathroom" in Greek before she went to Greece.). Don't be an ugly tourist; don't spit on local customs and remember the ancient term "When in Rome....". The world is so very large and full of wonderful things; one of my greatest regrets is that Calista saw so very little of it.
Always learn. Certainly a traditional education is all very nice, but the mistake people always seem to make is that they stop learning as soon as the ink is dry on their diploma. Don't limit yourself in either the scope or the depth of your personal education. Libraries are filled with valuable books that are rarely opened and, of course, the Internet just keeps on expanding (but at least books have editors, fact-finders and references; the Internet seems to be mostly rumours and lies). Remember that, contrary to popular opinion, stupidity and ignorance can be cured.
Enjoy your life or change it. Don't wait for someone to save you; you are responsible for your own life, nobody else. Dump the useless boyfriend, find a new career, start an exercise program, cut the junk food out of your diet and learn something new every day. Stop making excuses; just go get it done.
Now that feels finished.
|Fall will come for all of us. Winter is never far behind. Relish your Summers.|