4 Months ago, I walked in Barnes and Noble to buy the very anticipated “If You Feel Too Much” written by Jamie Tworkowski. A friend had recommended (more than once) that I read it. Without much hesitation, I begin to read. Little did I know the change that was coming.
Page 30. It begins like this: “There are some things we can’t change, there are some things we can. This is about the idea that, if were not careful, the days turn into years and our rooms fill up with elephants.”
The chapter revolved around Fathers. Long story short, Jamie felt a disconnect with his father. The disconnect was a 10,000 pound elephant standing in their midst. Every time they would end up together, the elephant showed up blocking them from fully embracing and loving each other.
Suddenly I realized the elephant in the room with my own father.
Rewind 5 years. 2010. Freshman year of high school. If life weren’t hard enough, this was the same year my dad was diagnosed with ALS. I remember the night like it was yesterday. I sat in my tiny bedroom against the dresser i’d become very familiar with. My wrists knew the pain of a razor. My thighs felt the cut of a blade. Depression became a friend I didn’t care to have. It crept in and the darkness took over. A knock on my door led me to the living room where a crowd was gathered to hear the news. My mom was there. My brother and step-sister. My youth pastor. Some doctor lady. My dad sat on the couch and looked down as she said, “Bob has a disease known as ALS”. The room fell apart. Tears. Screeches. Pain. I didn’t move.
I asked to be excused and sat back against that dresser. The weeks following were hard. The years harder. We watched as his body began to unbuild itself. I watched as each piece of him failed. First his hands. Then his legs. Then ability to eat. Then his speech. I’ll spare you the details. It wasn’t glamorous. It was tragic. heart-wrenching. devastating.
As my dad’s health got worse, my fear got worse. The truth is: I became afraid of my own dad. I was afraid I would hurt him. I was afraid I would mess something up.
This is when the elephant walked in.
Communication between us dwindled. We stuck to emails and texts. Rare visits on weekends and avoidance of one another. His tried harder to be close to me, and I pushed away more. This went on for 4 years.
The elephant took over our relationship.
I wanted to apologize. I wanted so badly to say something that would fix it. I wanted to run and give my dad a hug and tell him I love him a million times. I wanted to ask for forgiveness. I wanted to fight back against the fear.
At least that’s what I thought.
May 27, 2015. I read these words: “Love is a thousand things, but at the center is a choice. It’s a choice to love people.”
I came to the reality of a choice. I had a choice to say something. I had a choice to do something about the elephant.
“Elephants show up where they don’t belong and they try to stay forever and they ask us not to say a word.”
In the closing paragraph, Jamie explains how it’s okay to ask the elephant to leave. It might take some time and it’s certainly a process, but if we chose to tell them to go, they will.
My dad died 2 months ago. The months preceding his death I fought for that elephant to leave. I spent my days working to make sure he knew how much I cared.
I sat in his room. Counting the breaths. For every 60 second of the world moving on, my dad breathed 4 of them. Those 4 breathes were hope. They were signs of life. I knew it would only be a couple hours and those numbers would dwindle down to 0. But I sat and watched. I waited.
People came from all over to say their goodbyes. Each one walking in for only a few moments and leaving. I watched each person break down. I watch as the reality of it all sunk in.
On the last night of my dad’s life we gathered around his bed. My brother sat by my side. His girlfriend was there. My mom was there. My dads sister. My grandma and my dad’s wife. My step sister and her boyfriend.
One by one everyone dispersed and for the first time in months I sat alone with my dad. I held his hand and cried. I told him how much I loved him and how much he meant to me. I said the words I hadn’t.
He passed the next morning.
The last two months have been the hardest I’ve known. I’ve had moments where I completely lose it. I’ve sat on the floor of my shower and cried for hours. I’ve driven 1,000+ miles searching for answers.
I write this to say one thing: don’t let the elephant stay.
You never know when the last day is gonna come. Tell the elephant to leave. Fight back. Say the words you haven’t. Do the hard stuff.
I wish I would have started fighting back sooner. I let fear tell me I was drowning.
You’re not drowning.
Fear is a liar.
My dad said it best, “Seek more, Run less”
There’s hope. Stop running.
I believe my dad is the greatest man to ever live. He was the strongest, most honest, caring, and loving human being I’ve ever known. He faced opposition every single day, yet still held his head up high. He saw beauty everywhere and chose to embrace every part of life. He loved others well and believed the best in people.
Thank you Dad for being my best friend. Thank you for learning me and being patient with me. Thank you for loving me at both my worst and my best. Thank you for pushing me to try harder. You always brought out the best in me. Thank you for being my #1 fan. There is so much I could say of your character. You were a role model for so many. I wish I could tell you I love you one more time. I miss you. You’re my hero, Dad. ALS didn’t win. ALS will never win. You gained Heaven. You’re body is healed and glorified. The victory is in Jesus.
I also need to say a special thank you to the people who have believed in me over these last months and been there through this season. First and foremost, I thank Jesus for His faithfulness and grace in all of this. I’m thankful death doesn’t have the last word and, as believers, we have the promise of Heaven. Second, I want to thank Haley Houle who has stood by my side every day leading up to my dad’s passing to now. You’re a treasure, Hales. I don’t know where I’d be without you. A few more people including: Jenna Bednarsky who has fought for me these last few months. Kat Sullivan and Zoie Rigsby who have held my hand as I’ve faced my last semester of college. The pastors and leaders at Church of the Highlands. My CTI family. My brother Jared and his girlfriend Kami. Xtreme Life Student Ministry. There are so many more, this is only a few. A million thank you’s to each of you and even the ones I didn’t mention. Thank you to Jamie Tworkowski for the words in “If You Feel Too Much”. Without this book, I don’t think I would have fought back.