I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when I flew back to my family in New York on January 29th, 2015. This was the second time my papa had a large malignant tumor behind his ear and was battling cancer for a 7th time. He always made it through but I knew this one was aggressive and he had already beaten it in the same spot the year prior. When I spoke to him on the phone in the weeks leading up to my trip I could hear him deteriorating. My grandfather was a talker, we could talk on the phone for hours. But the week before my flight he was having trouble with finding words for things and couldn’t hold a conversation for more than 15 minutes. It was difficult to hear the drastic change so quickly in someone I was so very close to. We spoke on the phone every couple of weeks. I would tell him about a new job or things about the family on the west coast and he would share his research on his glucose project. He was a brilliant physicist that loved a good conversation. He was one my best friends an we never lacked topics in our witty conversations.
By the time I arrived in New York he had become bedridden and was only able to get up in order to go to the bathroom. Fortunately, our closeness allowed me to usually understand him even without words. Since the cancer had now gone into his brain he spoke more like a stroke victim than my chatty papa. This is a point where many people prefer to stay away from their loved one and I certainly don’t blame them. You become acutely aware of every single emotion you have as a human being. Some days I was beaming simply because he ate, or seemed like he was content and in less-than-normal pain. Another day he professed how much loved me (my grandfather showed it in his actions and RARELY said it) and enjoyed a piece of black licorice like it was orgasmic. Then there were the dark days that were in stark contrast to the others. The ones where he didn’t want to see anyone, wouldn’t eat or didn’t even know who I was. I wanted to appreciate my last moments with him but it was a grim reminder of what was to come.
It made me practice daily gratitude, humility and vulnerability because depression, anxiety, fear and anger can’t seem to coexist for long with those attributes. It doesn’t mean I wasn’t sad. I was sad almost every day. But I embraced it without letting it consume me. I knew that time would heal that loss eventually and my memories of Papa, healthy, would always stay with me. Even writing this brings pain to my heart and tears to my eyes but I am so very blessed to have been able to care for him in his final weeks. I felt like I was able to give back a small amount that he had given to me.
Here are 10 things I learned from my Papa, simply by how he lived.
1. ALWAYS do what you love. Never do it for the money because that will follow when are passionate about something.
2. Work hard and always do your best. Not perfection, just your personal best.
3. Don’t be lazy, it’s a waste of time (and so are video games).
4. Family is everything. But live in your own house because they’re all crazy.
5. Wine, good food, dark beer, exercise and early mornings are necessary for optimum health. So is a tended garden.
6. Never take yourself too seriously, that’s just boring. Shock value makes great stories.
7. Everyone’s a critic. Just do what suits you without hurting anyone because you’re going to be judged anyway.
8. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind or your opinion. Other people can walk away, that’s their choice.
9. Never stop learning.
10. Life changes and so will you. Learn to roll with it, don’t fight it. Learn from things and move on. Don’t dwell.