It has been 11 years since my father passed away. Prior to his death I despised him. I spent years being angry over how he used to physically abuse my mother and how he abandoned me when I was four years old. I also found fault with my father’s life choices. I used to always ask my mother how the smartest man I knew could have allowed drugs to ruin his life. Before my father began abusing drugs, he was a mechanic in the United States Airforce and was later accepted into The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. As the drugs began to slowly consume my father, he dropped out of business school and became extremely violent towards my mother. Eventually, he left home and never came back. I spent years yearning for him and looking around every corner hoping to bump into him.
I finally reconnected with my father in 1995, after years of not seeing him. When he finally saw me again, he had to do a double-take because I was only four-years-old with afro puffs when he last saw me. Yet, I stood there before him as a teenager with a long silky Wrap hairstyle. I fondly remember spending Christmas with my father and his wife and family in 1995. I really felt good about having my dad back in my life because I really loved him although he was absent for most of my life. Things were going well until I got a fateful call from my stepmom in July of 1996.
While in Minneapolis for the LEAD Summer Business program, my stepmom called to inform me that my father had full blown AIDS. He contracted the HIV virus through intravenous drug use. Nothing could’ve prepared me for that news. I became angry with God because I felt as if a dirty trick had been played on me. God knew how badly I wanted my father back into my life and how happy it made me to finally be reunited with him. How could God take my dad away from me—again? What turned out to be a promising summer of opportunity turned out to a summer of bitterness, sorrow and anger. In light of my father’s ailing health, I tried to redeem lost time, but every attempt seemed futile. My dad would always disappear for days at a time. When I learned that my dad continued to use drugs after he found out that he had AIDS, I was livid. He was making no attempt to help himself. I refused to accept his lifestyle so I “cut him off” although it hurt me deeply. In 2001, after I graduated from Duke University, my father passed away. We never made amends.
As I reflect upon my father’s death, I now realize that I wasted valuable time judging and assuming things about him. I assumed that my father did not love me. I later found out that my father assumed that I was ashamed of him because he led a vagabond existence as he neared the end of his life. This is why he always disappeared whenever I came around to see him. Although my father caused much pain in my life, he contributed so much more and I’m realizing that he wasn’t so bad after all.
Yesterday, I wrote a list of things I was thankful for. Surprisingly, my father topped the list. I was thankful that God chose him to give me life. No matter what happened in our relationship, I was a part of my father and he was a part of me. I was also thankful for the times my father taught me how to read at a very young age. He’d give me a shiny fifty cents piece every time I finished a book. (When all was said and done, I was a rich four-year-old!) My father always stressed the importance of education as well. He was my driving force to succeed in my academic pursuits. It is because of him that I was the first in my family to graduate from college. Most importantly, through his death, my father taught me never to judge anyone.
Although we may not always agree with a loved one’s life choices, we should make every attempt to love and appreciate them as best we can. We never know what someone is going through or what has forced them to make certain decisions. If you have an estranged relationship with a loved one, try to make amends if at all possible. Don’t be like me—wishing you could turn back time.
We should hug our loved ones extra tight and let them know how much we appreciate them. For those of you who have recently lost a loved one and you’re trying to cope with their absence, try to be strong and find refuge in fond memories. These memories will help you to heal and to appreciate your loved one’s life.
Do you have a similar story you’d like to share? Are you coping with the loss of a loved one? Please share your stories and thoughts with the rest of us. Your words could encourage someone else.
P.S. Remember, everything has beauty—including YOU. It just takes a true D.I.V.A to see it!
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