A Month of Reflection

June 4, 2012 § 7 Comments

Today is June 4. Its been a month since my dad so abruptly and unexpectedly left this world. 32 days since he died to be exact. 31 days we have lived on our own.

It feels as though its been a day, a month, and a year all at the same time. The fact that a month has passed is astonishing. And yet the fact that its only been a month and feels like a lifetime is troubling. I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting this past month on my father’s life, my own life, and grieving in general.

My father’s death was a public one. For the first week there was non-stop local news reporting. At first I was troubled by this. It was a private time but yet it ran non-stop on the news over the weekend. The Orlando Magic held a moment of silence – we got calls from friends in other cities saying they saw it on television. I couldn’t break away from social media – odd as that sounds – you’d think I wouldn’t have wanted to be on Twitter or Facebook – but for me, as long as people were talking about him, he was still with us. And so I found myself tied to the TV, Twitter, Facebook, Google News. It was as though with every mention of “Gary Sain” – he was somehow still alive. While the first week truly sucked, we were all comforted by the many friends and family around, as well as the virtual support online. (((Hugs))) abounded.

Then came week 2. A total fog. Life quieted down. Friends and family went back to their lives, and so we tried to do the same. I left my mom’s house and came back home. I kept waiting for my dad to visit me in the silence – I wanted to look up and see the fan moving even if it wasn’t on, to have the radio magically turn on to Chicago, the Beatles, or Frank Sinatra, to have my dog start barking happily at the sight of him that only she would be able to see. But none of those things happened. We were alone.

Week 3 was back to work week. I knew going back to work wasn’t going to be easy but I had absolutely no idea how painful and hard it would be. I just really can’t describe it. Last week, week 4, was my first trip and while I found little bits of my old self – getting excited here and there during meetings or wanting to meet up with people for dinner – mostly there was a huge void and I’m sure that will always remain. I found myself going through motions and wondering how many times my dad had done them. I found some sense of comfort in literally following in his footsteps. After all, he’d just been to DC the week he died. As I flew home I looked out over the sea of clouds and waved hello without raising my hand. A silent longing.

So, here I am, on Day 31 of living without my dad – and while there is still an uncontrollable sadness that can’t be defined, I’m coming to terms with this and can’t help but reflect on my dad’s life and be extremely, utterly, over-the-top proud of my father. I would have answered very differently Saturday but you see, last night was Florida Hospital’s Gourmet Soiree and the focus of the event is to help raise money for their “Healthy 100“. They’re trying to teach people how to live to a healthy 100. Part of the event was something called the “Executive Challenge.” I knew my dad was part of the Executive Challenge – it started out of his pushup challenge he set for himself on his 61st birthday – but I had no idea the instrumental role he played in it. He pretty much got it started and recruited the other executives as I learned last night.

Gary Sain, Florida Hospital

My mom spoke about the Executive Challenge and what she wanted everyone to take away from it – I was super proud watching her on stage!

As I saw this room full of people wanting to help others live to the Healthy 100, and these executives on stage saying all these great things about fitness and infusing a healthy lifestyle into their culture and doing the right thing and how my dad inspired them, I couldn’t help but be proud and amazed. The best was when the executives all got down to do 10 pushups in honor of dad, I had a huge smile and I know my dad was smiling too.

So, here we are trying to make progress. Yesterday really invigorated me and it was the push I needed. I exercised both yesterday and today and now have to decide what healthy vegan meal to make for dinner.

My request of you: Don’t wait to make a change in your life.

Do something today.

Take a challenge.

Go for it!

Reduce red meat. Cut out dairy. Walk daily. Try yoga. Meditate. Practice smiling. 🙂

No improvement is too small. You can do it!

When there are just no words

May 24, 2012 § 11 Comments

The past few weeks have been a total blur. My dad…my vibrant, healthy, happy, optimistic, energetic dad, passed away out of the blue on the evening of May 4, three days before my birthday. What started as a birthday weekend celebration ended in none other than a perfect nightmare. Forty-five minutes after siting down to a special dinner with my husband, I found myself sitting in a cold, beige private waiting room at the hospital – trying to comfort my mom, telling her that dad would be OK. How could he not? He was the healthiest 61 year old I knew. Heck, he had just completed his challenge of 1,000 pushups on his 61st birthday a few months prior – correction, in typical Gary Sain fashion, he exceeded his goal and did 1200! And he had so much living left to do…

What transpired next was unthinkable. No one is ever prepared to hear of the death of a loved one. Certainly we’ve had our fair share of practice at this the past two years. Whether it is after a long painful battle with disease, or a sudden death without warning – the sting of loss is sharp and cuts deep. But there’s something about death without warning. It casts a shadow over your entire being, making you question everything you believe to be true. The finality of the unexpected leaves you feeling winded. Literally having to sit down just at the thought of it. I never could have imagined May 4 would have ended as it did – in one of the worst heart breaks ever. So many dreams were lost that night as we sat in the ER and said our goodbyes.

A flurry of friends and family came to our rescue. And wouldn’t you know I had to remain vegan through all of it! I explained to my neighbor how much I appreciated everyone’s support – but frankly after my uber healthy dad died unexpectedly – you couldn’t pay me to eat a piece of meat. You see, he was adopting my lifestyle – slowly but surely. I had convinced mom, and she in turn was convincing him. He had cut out all dairy and meat and the only real animal product he was eating was fish. One of the last emails I have from him was from two weeks before he died. I’d been pestering him to watch “Forks Over Knives”. He did and sent me this email:

“Just watched it…very good.

On my way to LA…Love Dad”

I was equally proud and devastated in the following days as people told me how he would refuse the Caesar dressing in favor of a vinaigrette or replace the steak with salmon. If only we’d adopted our vegan lifestyle a bit earlier. I know there are no guarantees, but not a day has gone by that I haven’t thought “If only…”

If only I’d answered his last call a few hours before he died…I was “too busy” finalizing a presentation.

If only I’d acted on my urge to have lunch with him earlier that day…

If only I’d said yes to go to the Boys and Girls Club dinner he was chairing that night, where he made his welcome speech only to leave the room for a glass of wine shortly thereafter and die instantly…

If only we’d adopted our vegan lifestyle earlier…maybe, just maybe things would be different?

I know these questions aren’t helpful or necessarily mentally healthy. But needless to say, my commitment to our diet was reaffirmed. I pleaded with my neighbor for plant based food – and our loving support system delivered.

When it was time to leave my mom’s and return to my home, I was met with mixed emotions. I couldn’t stay at my parents’ forever, 8 days was already too long to be away from my home and my husband, but staying there kept me connected. After I left and came home, I felt I was in another world. There weren’t memories of him everywhere I looked as there were in my parents’ home, and I missed that. But I was home and supposed to start to return to “normal” – we all were. It’s a strange feeling wanting things to go back to normal and not wanting them to at all because if they do, then he is really gone. It’s almost as though in grieving, he remains. But to go back, I didn’t want to…

We can never go back, we can only go forward. One day, one step at a time. So for me, after two weeks of take out I decided it was time to at least buy some healthy groceries. After the carb overload during the past few weeks of grief, I steered clear of the packaged goods aisles and went straight for the produce. I stocked up on fruits and veggies, nuts, almond milk, and coconut milk creamer – my comforts. For days I’d been nurturing my body with bountiful wraps and salads full of the necessary vitamins. I even managed to make a smoothie one day.

But yesterday… yesterday was hard. Really hard. Days 17, 18, and 19 seemed to be harder than days 1, 2, or 3 as odd as that sounds. And while I struggle to understand how to live with this grief and not let it overwhelm me, overtake my very core, I decided last night for dinner that a salad just wasn’t going to cut it. Nope, back to the carb aisle for me. There was no way around it – it was going to be a pasta night despite the veg-packed fridge. But I did have a lovely bunch of arugula beckoning me – calling me and saying, don’t waste me for a jar of salty tomato sauce – come on, get creative. As a salad was out, I tried to think of what I could do with this peppery arugula and finally decided on an arugula pesto. I’d never made it before but the fact that it had 2 cups packed arugula in it was a winner with me. The resulting pesto was creamy and comforting – just what I needed.

I loosely followed this recipe here. I cut the entire thing in half with the exception of the pine nuts and garlic and of course, omitted the cheese. The garlic may be a bit strong so you may like sticking with half if dividing the recipe – and half the recipe was plenty to generously coat a whole box of pasta. If you find the garlic is too strong though, a squeeze of lemon offers a nice freshness. At the end I realized I was out of olive oil – so I subbed grapeseed oil, which stood in just fine. Toss with pasta and peas.

If only life were as easy as this bowl of pasta…

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