My Dad Could Have Died

Ed note: Today’s post is going to be a little different than the norm. Because part of the focus of this site is making and part of it is about navigating my way in the post-40s world, sometimes there will be posts about life in general. I invite you to enjoy both types in equal measure.


When I sat down to write this post, I immediately started crying. This has been happening on and off for the last 3 weeks as my family and I come to grips with what happened.

See, my dad could have died.

If you’ve never had to drive through the ruthlessly interminable Los Angeles traffic expecting to hear that your father is dying when you arrive at the hospital, please know how very lucky you are.

It’s been a trying time. And we ARE very lucky. Because despite everything, my dad is still alive. I just saw him yesterday. He looked dashing in the leather trench coat I bought him some birthdays ago.

He also won a game of Utter Nonsense, which is the perfect party game to play when 3 generations of the family are gathered in a room.

However the game of “what ifs” keeps stampeding through my mind. Its twin cousins “if there’s a next time” and “there may not be a next time” play, too. It’s exhausting, and it’s no way to live.

I can’t really put into words what I feel. Is this hitting me so hard because I’m a daddy’s girl? Because I just turned 41 and the fragility of life is becoming all too real?

This is actually an exercise in attempting to make sense of these feelings. Because even though I have every reason to be grateful (and I AM!), dealing with this has been complicated and messy.

Since I was at a loss for words and how to move forward, I asked for input from others who might have experienced something similar. Here I’ve compiled a pretty good list for dealing with “complicated and messy.”

Resources for Dealing with Grief

The following are from other writers who have experienced something similar.

Practicing Gratitude

A woman standing off the side of the road in a white jacket and jeans with her hands on her hips looking determined, while the sky look foreboding behind her, text overlay reads
This has been at the top of my list recently (not only because of my complaint diet). I’m SO VERY grateful that the words “heart attack” weren’t a death sentence. That I get to have more pants-fitting sessions with my dad. That I get to make him another silk bowling shirt.

And that later this year, we’ll meet up with the rest of his family in Puerto Rico to celebrate life.

Perspective—When Life Falls Apart

Looking down the hallway of a hospital with people in green scrubs down the hall, a gurney parked off to the left, white text overlay reads Perspective--holding it together when it's all falling apart. Budget101 dot com
My husband has been amazing during this time. I basically forgot how to function and completely lost track of…everything. #The100DayProject has all but cratered. Eating—what’s that? I’ve at least remembered to shower daily. Throughout it all, Ryan has picked up all the slack and kept us on track.

The few friends I told about the situation sent cards, texts, DMs, and love from afar. I can’t tell you how much it means to know that someone out there is thinking about you when you can’t think of anything else.

Oddly enough, our family got closer. I guess there’s something about tragic situations that bind us all tighter. I even spent a few days road tripping with my niece (note: this post was written a week before the trip, which was a full week of extra healing and getting back to normalcy!).

30+ Ways to Relax and Keep Calm When You’re Feeling Stressed or Anxious

Image of hands forming a heart with the sun in the middle with text 30+ ways to relax and calm down when you're feeling stress or anxious. www dot the rising spoon dot com
This is a good list for any time fear, stress, or anxiety rear their ugly heads. Breathing has been one of my major weapons of attack. You’d think it would be easy to breathe since it happens naturally. But deep, cleansing breaths are incredible. Especially if you haven’t had one in a while.

Getting into the gym and just lifting heavy shit (nope, can’t do THAT anymore) sweating has done wonders for making me feel normal. It’s partially the routine of it, making me believe that nothing has really changed. But the release of endorphins cannot be discounted.

It’s like a drug.

Planning for the Inevitable

Look, we’re all going to die. If we’re lucky, it won’t be until late in life and without much suffering. But the truth is anyone can get hit by a bus tomorrow. Lakes and Lattes turned me onto how the late Steve Jobs approached this finality.

This is the transcript from his infamous 2005 commencement address at Stanford:

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

What is truly important is squeezing every drop of life out as long as we can while making arrangements for the inevitable.

Don’t wait until it’s too late to prepare. Get your documentation in order NOW. My favorite podcast, Death in the Afternoon with funeral director Caitlin Doughty, had a recent episode on this very topic. Called Get Your Sh*t Together, they interviewed Chanel Reynolds who lost her husband in a bike riding accident (and later wrote a book by the same name as this episode). Chanel and her husband HAD done all their paperwork…it just wasn’t signed.

Something she said stuck with me, so I’ve transcribed it here (emphasis mine):

It was hard enough for me to be in the room and understand what the doctors were saying…and then I had this growing pile of additional optional increasing suffering and worries that…added so much extra suffering onto this situation that was already excruciating.

Optional suffering. By preparing ahead of time, you can’t at the very least avoid this one extra layer of hurt.

I later learned that I was listening to this episode as my dad was headed to the ER. Creepy, but timely.

I highly recommend giving the entire episode a listen, as well as enjoying the rest of the podcast. Caitlin and her cohorts Sarah and Louise are both entertaining and informative. You can also check out Caitlin’s YouTube channel, Ask a Mortician. She gives MANY tips for facing death.

Chanel’s website also has a site for helping with this transition, including a before AND after death checklist.

My dad could’ve died. I’m so very grateful he didn’t. But now I’m a little more prepared for when it eventually happens…

How do you deal with grief? What about just run of the mill stress? Leave your tips below in the comments, and thanks for reading.


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M.L. James
Jun 5, 2019 9:41 am

Paulette, My heart goes out to you. What an awful scare and powerful wake up call. I, too, often find myself wondering with my dad, “Will this be the last time I see you, hug you, etc.” It’s incredibly hard to try and reason with a man in his mid 80’s who hates being anything less than independent. He and I don’t often see eye-to-eye about many of his decisions; however, as he often says to me, it’s his life. In my opinion, that’s a very selfish way to go about living life when you have family members that care… Read more »