My Father Passed Away, And It Made Me A Better Person.
I would give anything and everything I have right now to have my father back in this world. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t miss him, or wonder what life would be like if he were still here.
It’s been five years since my father passed away from cancer.
I was 24, untraveled, stuck in a life that may have seemed a dream for others, but one that wasn’t being true to myself. I was unhappy, unfulfilled, unsettled and well on my way to hitting rock bottom. I left everything (apartment, relationship, job, friends) in my old life behind to travel the world for the very first time. People would ask me, “Weren’t you scared?” Hell yes, I was scared. But I had reached the point where I knew that I had nowhere else to go but up. So I took the biggest risk of my life.
That’s the thing about what seems like unbearable sadness and complete loss of hope – it just can’t get any worse. It can only get better.
And since then, life has continued to throw me numerous curveballs, allowed me to experience adventure and pushed me into situations that fuel my passions. There is good that can come from the bad.
But finding happiness isn’t easy. Sometimes, it’s disgustingly difficult, hidden behind your worst fears, and it won’t show itself until you build up your courage and fight for it. But eventually, you will find it – as long as you don’t give up. I’m proof of that.
But most people who meet me now don’t know about the last five years. They don’t know who I was before my father died, or during the year when he was sick. I was a completely different person. They didn’t experience me during my grief, during my transformation.
They didn’t see the bald spots that once covered my head. The thirty extra pounds of weight I hid behind layers of black. The closet full of clothing, bags and shoes I knew I didn’t need but bought anyway. Just to feel a little bit less shitty throughout the week.
They get to see the person I am today. Sugar and butterflies. Salty hair, usually barefoot, cracking jokes that aren’t always funny. The lighthearted laughter, the sun-kissed skin. The mind behind the motivation fed through instagram captions. The now nomad with an incomparable zest for life.
But I wasn’t always this person. It took me five years of life’s lessons to get me here.
Five years and twenty-five countries. And I want to share the journey that shaped me into the woman I am today – the woman I am slowly but surely becoming – the woman I hope that my father would be proud of.
You will become pickier with your priorities.
Oh, you know how they say life is short? Well there’s nothing like the death of your most favorite person to kick you in the a-s and remind you of how short it actually is.
I never for a second thought that I would have to live the rest of my life without my dad. I can’t call him on the phone to talk to him when I can’t make a decision. Or when I’m stressed out. I can’t just go home and hug him. I can’t thank him for everything he’s done. I can’t repay him for the sacrifices he made for our family. He will not be there to walk me down the aisle when I get married one day.
So when you realize how short life can actually be, your perspective changes and so do your priorities.
Some of the things that you felt were important will quickly become a waste of time. You will grow and shift, become uncomfortablewith your current life, and all of that discomfort creates pressure that forces you to reprioritize, re-examine and reshape the life you want to live.
You will know empathy, and it will create depth.
The beautiful thing about hardship is that it builds empathy – the ability to feel for and connect with others. It’s about being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. To actually give a f-ck about someone other than yourself.
And maybe that’s what has made me realize how beautiful it is to actually connect with someone on a deeper level. Someone who understands your pain, can empathize with it because they have undergone their own type of trauma, built themselves back up by overcoming their fears and eventually finding peace again. Someone who has been through their own journey, to identify with yours and feel as much as you feel.
You are inspiring others.
Yes, even now. Even in your darkness. Even when you’re difficult. Someone is looking at you,what you are going through – and is in awe of how you still manage to go about your life. It is a magnificently inspiring thing – to watch you have the strength to smile or laugh despite all of your hardships. Because of you, someone is looking at their own life and pushing to continue.
We often do not look at ourselves as inspirational, but I believe that everyone in the world can inspire someone by their story.
Most often, the people who have known hardship end up becoming the most successful, most empathetic and the most inspiring people in the world.
You, too, have the ability to help someone re-examine their own lives, and help them become a better person.
You are more emotional, and it is beautiful.
I was once so deeply afraid of my emotions that I tried to hide them from others and myself. And it broke me down. I stored them away and went through them alone. But when I started accepting and embracing them, it allowed me to create more open human connections.
And the friends who are there for you at your lowest moments, are the ones who will be there for you forever. The people who love you for your emotions, truly know you and will support you no matter what. Keep these people close.
I know so much more happiness and gratitude because I have known sadness and loss. It’s not that you experience only sadness when you are more emotional – you feel more of everything.
Your smile is brighter, your laugh is contagious and the simplest things will make you happier than the most extravagant.
I’m talking about pure, uncomplicated joy. And you will feel it in its raw form. Because you have truly known sadness.
You will not let fear control your decisions anymore.
People call me strong but I don’t always feel that way. I feel like a normal girl. I can have a temper, deal with insecurities, want to be loved, and feel emotional like anyone else. Sometimes I feel like a sh-t show, like my life isn’t in order. My biggest fear is that I will never find someone to love me the way my father loved me – unconditionally.
I used to fear sleeping in places where bugs crawled on the ceilings. I used to fear surfing waves that were bigger than six feet. I used to fear letting a boy think I liked him too much, so I played games and didn’t stay true to myself. I used to fear making rash decisions, or planning too little, or living without a sense of security. I used to fear change in any shape or form.
And I used to let these fears control my decisions, and my life. But I now see fear as an opportunity to challenge myself, and prove to myself that I am capable of overcoming each and every one.
I feel every bit of that fear before paddling out to a surf break I’ve never been to before. And when I jump off of waterfalls in a third world country. When I don’t know where I’m going to live next month, or if I’ll continue to find work as a photographer in the future.
I feel every bit of that fear and I do it anyway. And the practice of doing this will undoubtedly grow your confidence. Mine has grown exponentially in the last five years. I have done things that I never thought I could do.
I traveled alone to over twenty five countries. I climbed the highest mountain in North Africa while it was covered in snow. I fell in love, got my heart broken and have not let it turn me hard. I have surfed in waves stronger than I thought I was prepared for in over ten countries. I walked away from a five year relationship that I was scared to leave even though it was the most damaging to my confidence, mental health and self esteem. I photographed some of the world’s best surfers at one of the most famous and scariest surf breaks on the planet. I left a life of job security for the thought of an unstable future, for a guaranteed life of freedom.
And it is because I know that nothing I will ever go through – whatever problem, whatever issue, whatever heartbreak – will be as difficult as my father’s death. If I can go through that trauma, that hardship, that depression, and make it out alive – I will be able to get through anything. It has given me strength and perspective. And fear is no longer an option.
The best is yet to come.
I am constantly pushing myself to become better at what I am doing. Constantly pushing myself to become a better person. To be kind to all people. Move with purpose. Live a life that I and my family would be proud of.
From sadness and hardship comes growth, change and magnificent transformation.
I am embracing change and adventure. I am trying to keep my heart open, even when people hurt me. I am doing the very best that I can to make the world a more positive place. And I know that I would never be this person if I hadn’t gone through what I had five years before.
My father made me a better person when he was alive. And he continues to make me a better person even though he has passed away. Because that does not mean that he is gone.
His capacity to love, never-ending forgiveness, selfless nature and lighthearted laughter motivates me, lives within me and everyone else in my family.
Five years later, and yes – there are still moments when I get sad, missing my father and wishing he were here. Those moments will probably never go away. There are still moments when I get frustrated, when bad things happen to me, or when my feelings are hurt. But these are the parts of life that help you grow, blossom into a stronger, more resilient soul.
I hope you remember this when you are feeling like you are alone in your pain. I hope you remember that good is coming, and that you are stronger than you think.
Thank you to Prudential Financial and Bloglovin’ for supporting me by sponsoring this post, and allowing me to share my story as part of their #masterpieceoflove project. For more inspirational stories of loss, resilience, family and love — visit the official site for #masterpieceoflove here.
C’mon, he loved me even when I looked like this as a baby.
Miss and love you always. Thank you for everything you’ve done for us.