Hometown: Park Forest, IL
Ally: Elementary Education
Q: What accomplishments are you guys most proud of?
BG: I pride myself in being a great daughter, sister, aunt and friend to everyone close to me. I also like to think I’m a good writer and dancer. Those are my two greatest passions. Since I’ve been in college, I’ve advanced my writing skills significantly as well as received several different scholarships to help fund my education. I’ve also been generally successful at starting my life and living independently.
AG: I am very proud of all that I have accomplished as a dancer, both as a performer and a teacher. In addition, I am excited to be doing well to in college and on my way to a career as a teacher.
Q: Did you lose a mother or a father? How old was your parent when it happened and how old were you?
AG: Our dad passed away on June 8, 2013 at the age of 67. We were 19.
Q: What were you told at the time?
BG: Unfortunately, my mom, Ally and I witnessed the whole thing so we were the ones to tell the other members of our family what had happened.
Q: How did it happen?
AG: He was not sick. He had suffered from a minor heart condition that was well controlled with medication for over 20 years. It never had a major effect on him. There were no signs. On June 7, 2013, I said goodnight to my dad, who was as acting as normal as could be. About two hours later, I heard moaning outside my door. My mom yelled “GIRLS!”, and my sister and I sprang from our beds to find our dad slumped over on the toilet supported by my mom. He was moaning and breathing heavily, a sound I had never heard from him before. Bridget immediately called 911. My dad fell unconscious and my mom lowered him onto the floor and remained next to him. She could not tell for sure if he was breathing or not. After what felt like hours the paramedics arrived and I directed them upstairs. My mom, Bridget, and I gathered in another room to get out of their way and cried. After working for several minutes, they put my dad on a stretcher and took him out to the ambulance.
They questioned us about his age and medical history and told us to take our time getting to the hospital because they most likely would not be able to give us an update for a while. When we walked into the emergency room, a security guard led us into a private room with couches and tissues. I think we all knew he was gone at that point. A few minutes later, a doctor sat down with us and told us that they had done all that they could and that our dad had passed away. I immediately vomited. After phone calls were made and paper work filled out, the cause of death was pronounced as cardiac arrest. My mom wanted to see him before we left the hospital, but my sister and I did not.
Q: How do you feel that your loss affected you?
BG: Losing my father changed my entire life. I had a very close relationship with my dad and he helped me with so many things. It also made it much more difficult for me to enjoy anything in my life even though I am young and I am still struggling with that.
AG: For the first few weeks after my dad’s death my life was hazy. I do not remember much about the wake/funeral. Slowly, I have been able return to school, work, friends, etc., but I will never be truly complete again.
Q: Your family?
BG: My family basically had to re –learn to live. Because my dad had always been in the background managing things like our finances, cars, houses, school and just general needs we quickly realized that without him we were very lost. My dad was always a great support system for a family. He was always making jokes and making our lives lighter. He was our rock. Our family will never be the same.
AG: In the weeks following his death, my family and I did a lot of crying and hugging. What else could we do? I think we hold each other even closer now, because we know how quickly everything can change.
Q: How is your family now?
AG: We have our mom, our older sister Rebecca, and older brother Matt. We’re doing the best we can to pick up the pieces and return to our lives. With all of us becoming independent and moving out, getting jobs, having kids, etc., it has been extremely hard for us to resume our regular activities. We do not want to be away from each other and we do not want to be away from our mom. However, we know our dad would want us to continue to achieve and prosper in his absence. My brother was planning on moving to the city near his new job, but he has since put that on hold in order to stay with my mom and help her take care of the house. My mom takes it day by day. She lost her best friend, and she spends a lot of time alone now. Her plans to retire and move to our lake house with my dad were forced to change and now she is in a state of limbo. Her future is unsure and the stress is apparent. None of us really realized how much our dad did for use until we had to take it on ourselves. Figuring out passwords, paying bills, taxes, and tuition, house and yard maintenance, etc. was all taken care of by my dad. Unfortunately, much of that extra responsibility fell on my mom and brother. We all just do whatever we can to support and love each other and keep the family afloat.
BG: We’ve learned a lot and we’ve come a long way, but it’s still a daily struggle. Everyone always says “It’s going to take a long time to get over it” but the truth is, we won’t ever “get over” something like this, we can’t. We’re always going to miss my dad terribly. We will never forget what happened and not a second goes by that we don’t wish he were here with us.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about them?
BG: Our mom is an amazing woman. She is the principal of an elementary school and still manages to tend to every need of her own four children. Our brother is 23 and currently working downtown as a mechanical engineer. He is very successful for his age and I know my dad would be so proud of him. Our older sister, Rebecca, lives on the North side of Chicago with her husband and two sons, Teddy and Johnny. Ally and I both live and go to school at St. Xavier University in Chicago.
Q: Do you discuss your loss with your family?
BG: Yes. I’m lucky enough to have a great relationship with each member of my family and we are very open with each other. Talking about my Dad is something we do often. He gave us so many wonderful memories and talking about him sometimes makes us feel like he is still here. However, talking about my father’s death is never easy, even a year later.
Q: How did you explain the loss to your friends?
BG: It was very difficult to explain the loss to friends mostly because I did not even understand it myself. It was very sudden and everyone was in shock. A lot of my friends attended my father’s wake so I suppose that’s how they found out about it. But explaining what my family is going through to someone my age is nearly impossible, so I generally don’t talk about it with my friends.
Q: Do you still think about your parent? If so, how frequently?
AG: We think about our dad every single day. Not a day goes by that we don’t miss him terribly. There is so much that I wish I could tell him and experiences I want to share with him. You don’t realize how important someone’s voice is until you don’t hear it anymore. My dad had big, rough hands. A sign of a life well-lived. I would give anything to hold those hands again.
Q: Can you tell us some memories of your parent?
BG: Too many to explain. If I was home from school, I would be with my dad. He loved spending time with his kids and we did so many fun things together. We loved to go to garage sales. I spent so many weekend mornings driving around local neighborhoods going to garage sales with my dad. We both loved finding treasures and spending time together. We also loved fishing together and just talking, talking about everything. My dad and I were very similar. He was a great dad and a great friend to me.
AG: I couldn’t possibly pick a favorite memory, either. Almost every day was an adventure with my dad. The day he died we went to garage sales and stopped for ice cream on the way home. It was a completely normal day, but a beautiful memory. I remember asking him a question and he couldn’t hear me so he replied “What sweetie?” He called me “sweetie” all the time, but for some reason I really noticed it that time. For a girl, nothing is more comforting and heartwarming than hearing your dad call you “sweetie”, even when you’re 19.
We also loved fishing off the dock at our family’s vacation spot in Michigan. When I was young I was too afraid to put the worms on my hook or touch the fish when I caught one. So my dad would put his pole in the water and two seconds later I would catch a fish or need another worm and have to ask for help. He probably never caught a single fish in 10 years but he didn’t care, he loved teaching his kids and watching us enjoy life. He was extremely selfless.
Q: What was his job?
AG: My dad had several degrees and held many different jobs throughout his life. He did everything from working in a mental hospital to doing people’s taxes to computer programming. However, he was never happy in those jobs. He was more of a hobbies man. He was laid off when I was in fifth grade and after that, he became “Mr. Mom”. He would pick us up from school, take us to sports games/practices, and work on his latest hobby. He built model airplanes, visited garage sales, and baked muffins. He was happiest indulging in his hobbies and being at home with him family. I am so lucky to have seen so much of him throughout my childhood. Today, I thank god that Osco Drug laid him off.
Q: Are you still living to seek the approval of your parent even though he/she is no longer living? In some ways do you think that you are conscious of what you think your parent’s opinion would be because he/she is no longer here?
BG: I don’t think I seek his approval because he always trusted me and my decisions so fully. But I often find myself wondering if he would be proud of what I’ve accomplished since he’s been gone and wishing I could show and tell him so many things. Like I’ve said, my dad and I were very close so I often feel like I know what his opinion would be about certain things, he’s a voice in my head during every decision.
AG: I wouldn’t say I am seeking his approval. My dad was very proud of all of his children and he made that very known. I know that if he were here he would continue to be proud. Whenever I get a good grade, a scholarship, a job, or do a performance, I always wish he was there. Knowing your parents are proud of you isn’t always the same as being able to hear it and see it on their faces. Often, when making decisions, I consider what my dad would say. He was very level headed and calm, so I usually find myself channeling his mannerisms in times of stress or worry.
Q: What was the hardest part about your journey?
BG: One thing that has been very hard is the fear. When you lose someone unexpectedly it really reminds you how unpredictable life is. It’s really hard for my family to be apart from each other now. We worried about each other before, but now it’s to a completely different degree. It’s very difficult for me to let my mom out of my sight, having one parent makes you panic a little bit. Loss kind of takes your innocence away. Another hard part is simply thinking about all the things my dad will miss. He spent so much time and effort raising us and now he’s going to miss everything we accomplish. He’ll never walk me down the aisle, see me graduate or get my dream job or meet my kids. Those things are difficult for me to accept.
AG: The hardest part is getting used to his absence. Sometimes I walk in the door and look straight at his chair and wait for his greeting. I’ve had a hard time swallowing the fact that I am young and I have a lot of time to live without him. It’s hard to lose a parent when you still need them so much.
Q: How do you think your loss changed who you are?
BG: I appreciate everything so much more now. I know now that nothing is a guarantee. Planning is a good thing to do but living right now and appreciating every moment is the most important thing. There is no time for grudges or unnecessary fighting; As Buddha explained more eloquently, “The trouble is, we think we have time.”
AG: Since his death I am much more worrisome person. When someone in good health dies suddenly, it makes every small ailment, plane ride, road trip, etc. a serious and dangerous situation. I’m so afraid of losing someone else that I am in a constant state of worry. On a more positive side, my dad’s death has taught me the importance of making the most of every moment you have with the people you love and never missing an opportunity to tell them how much they mean to you. I would have said that Buddha quote too, but Bridget already did.
Q: If you could go back in time what would you tell your past self?
BG: I wouldn’t tell myself anything. If I had known what was going to happen to my dad I think it would have ruined a lot of the special moments I had with him. Time with my dad was always care free and fun, that’s how I want those moments to stay.
AG: I am very lucky to have had a wonderful relationship with my dad. I got to spend more time with him than most girls my age, and I am so grateful for that. I wish I had told him more often what an amazing dad he was. He supported me and loved me in a way that no one else can. He was the perfect mix goofy, embarrassing, stern, funny, protective, loving, and level headed, and he didn’t hear it enough.
Q: What is something that people do or say in regard to your parent that comforts you?
BG: I just like when people share memories of my dad. It keeps him alive.
AG: One thing I do remember from my dad’s wake was an elderly man I had never met before. I was sitting along in a chair near my dad’s casket and walked up to me with his cane and sat in the seat right next to me. He said “You don’t know me, but I want you to know that your father was a wonderful man”. Then he got up and left. It comforts me to know that so many other people saw what I saw in my dad.
Q: Irritates you?
BG: I’ve had so many people say “He’s in a better place”. The best place for him to be is here with his family. End of story. Also, someone close to me said “At least you had him for 20 years. Some kids don’t even get that much. It could be worse.” Don’t ever tell someone who just witnessed a parent die suddenly that it could be worse.
AG: There is no right thing to say to a young girl who lost her father, but I am so thankful everyone who has tried to comfort me. One thing that people often say that bothers me is “he is in a better place”. As selfish as it sounds, for me, the best place for him to be is here with his family. When you lose your rock, it’s hard to imagine a better place for them to be than with you.
Q: Saddens you?
BG: Like I said before, sometimes it saddens me that most other people my age will have their dads around for the most important moments of their lives and I will not. I try not to fall into that resentment and jealousy but it’s hard not to.
AG: I always get choked up when anyone mentions a memory of my dad, but I am not saddened by what they say, I am more saddened that I will never experience that again.
Q: What has strengthened you?
BG: My family and friends strengthen me, and doing things I love. And the fact that I know my dad would want me to continue on with my life, I am positive that’s what he would want.
AG: My family is the only reason that I continue to live a somewhat normal life. They are my strength and my support. I have to constantly remind myself that my siblings and I are my dad’s legacy, his blood runs in our veins. I do everything for him.
Q: If you could reach out and tell something to all those kids out there who are grieving over a loss of a parent, what would you say?
BG: Let yourself be upset. Grieve for as long as you need to. Be angry and sad for as long as you want. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that there is a time limit on this process. Don’t try to stop yourself from feeling whatever you’re feeling and that includes happiness. Sometimes I catch myself feeling bad about smiling or laughing even though my dad is not around. Just because you’ve gone through something terrible doesn’t mean you can’t or won’t be happy again. And the last thing I would say is give it time. Nothing anyone is going to say (no matter how heartfelt or well thought out) is going to make this better. The only thing that helps is time, a lot of time. I still don’t know how much. None of this will ever be easy and you’ll miss your parent for the rest of your life, but I’m confident we will learn to rebuild and manage our pain….in time.
AG: I would tell them that it gets easier. Not overnight, not in a month, not in a year, and maybe never completely better, but going on with your life gets easier. You will learn to be happy again, to laugh again. Your parents never leave you. I think of myself as having one loving parent here on Earth and one loving parent as a guardian angel. I’m covered on all sides.