The section below is from the book, The Crucible’s Gift where I talk about the death of my father and how this crucible moment wasn’t all sadness and dispair.
“My crucibles are no more or less significant than anyone else’s, but they are mine, and I wear them like that old ragged T-shirt from your early twenties you still wear. The number of minor and major crucibles that have personally impacted me would require a separate book. At 19, I watched a man die in a car wreck. I remember vividly his last breath, seeing his chest rise and fall as blood came out of his nose, eyes and ears. This event made me appreciate my journey in this world. I have had a relative steal $10,000 on credit cards (not good for my trust) and every minor crucible in between. But there is one crucible at this point in my life that stands out above all others: the loss of my father when I was 20.
I was attending the University of Dayton, in Ohio, and summer break had just begun. I was visiting my then-girlfriend, who attended Western Oregon University in Monmouth. We were out for a walk around the campus and had just gone into her dorm when the phone rang.
To this day, I can clearly remember how the room was set up. The bunk beds were on the right against the wall; the dressers were on the left at the end of the room; the desk was against the wall in the middle of the room. Now, at this point, my dad had been sick for only about six months with early-onset heart failure, but the prospect of death had not entered the conversation, or at least my parents decided not to share it with me. My guess is that this was done by design to protect me. So while I was talking to my girlfriend, I got a phone call on the dorm phone from a dear family friend, and she simply said, “Your dad passed.” There were some other words that followed, but to be fair, I wasn’t really listening. Those three words put me on my knees, and buckets of tears came flowing out.
During the next two years, I didn’t really deal with the loss. No one around me had dealt with this type of loss either. I often felt alone. So I self-medicated, with excessive drinking. I acted out in ways that showed I was screaming for attention and help, but no one around me really saw it, and to be fair, I didn’t know how to ask for help. What I did realize, or want, was to live my life for today. This wasn’t always good for the ole bank account, but I look at my dad’s life focusing on the idea that we have only a finite amount of time on this earth and we can’t take our money with us when we die, so get out there and live!
Fast-forward twenty years and four kids, and his death has crept back into my psyche. What I have failed to mention is that my dad died at 49. I now find myself driving my career as hard as possible to achieve multiple goals and objectives because, in my mind, I am dead in six short years (I’m 43). Logically, I can see why this is a flawed proposition, but emotionally, for every illness and every visit to the doctors, I look for parallels in my health that signal my “demise.” Again, I know this logic is flawed. I’m not overweight like my dad was; I’m active and my dad was not; I eat healthy foods and my dad did not; and, essentially, I am a combination of both my parents’ genes. But it just isn’t easy, and when I ask others whose parents died early about their experience, they tell me that they are going through or did go through the same process.
It’s not all tears for me. My dad’s death had a net positive impact on who I am today and the type of husband and father I am. If I’m asked if I would prefer him to be alive, that is clearly a yes. I’m just not sure I would be the person I am today or if I would have accomplished the various achievements that I have. Would this book get written? Would I have lived in Australia for nearly four years? Moved to the Middle East? Be the husband or father that I am now? Probably not, but I don’t play “What if?” because if I spent all that time looking back, I would never move forward.”
James Kelley, PhD.