Carpe Diem

My Dad taught me a lot throughout the years. One of the most important lessons he taught me was to live in the moment. I can remember vividly the moment he told me he had been diagnosed with cancer. I was driving home from work- a two minute drive at the time-when my phone rang halfway between my job and home. I answered the phone with excitement, as I always did when my Dad called, but immediately felt a vibe as if something was wrong. There weren’t many times when my Dad would call me when he was serious in his tone or in our conversation. This was one of those rare moments.
“Well I went to the doctor today because your mother was worried about my health with us leaving for Florida,” he said. Immediately I KNEW that he was about to tell me he was having heart issues again. After all, the sweating, difficulty breathing, excessive weight gain, were so symptomatic of where we were two years prior when he underwent a quadruple bypass. “I was diagnosed with cancer,” he said. I immediately pulled into the old Jeep Wrangler dealership on 34 as I couldn’t tell if I was going to pass out, throw up, or just have a complete mental breakdown. The elephant that jumped on my chest at that moment completely kept me from being able to take a breath. I hid my emotions to my Dad. “Ok so what, you’re strong, you’re positive, we’ll get through this. You’re a Dalton!” I was so confident in my positive way of thinking that his next words hit me like a freight train. “My cancer isn’t curable, but it is slow moving,” he said.
I don’t remember much of our conversation. What I remember next is pulling up to the house saying to myself “how the HELL am I going to keep it together when I see Rob with the kids here. There is no way I can walk into that house without having a complete break down.” Luckily, as I stepped through the door, my phone rang and I looked down to see it was my Uncle Turkey. Rob knew by the look on my face that something was terribly wrong, but I was able to sneak away from the kids and talk to my uncle exactly when I needed him. It’s funny how every since that moment, he calls me every time I really need it. That time was really tough for me. It was a time where I was at a cross road and really unsure of how we would all get through this when I knew one of us wouldn’t get through it alive. My relationship with my Dad was so incredibly strong that I literally didn’t know what the upcoming years would hold for us as a family.
I’m glad I can now say how grateful I am for that journey that started years ago with a heart wrenching phone call from my dear old Dad. I learned so much since then. Most importantly for me, I chose to live in the moment and cherish every single moment that we had together. That made all the difference as I said goodbye to the man who not only brought me into this world and molded me into who I am today, but the guy who in my adult years had become such a great friend to me that I couldn’t imagine my life without him. What made it even more difficult was that I watched him and my son, in such a short time, develop such an amazing relationship that my heart ached to imagine Anthony living without his Pop. The situation was sad. It was so very sad. And here we were living it with smiles on our faces because when Mike Dalton was around, sad was the last emotion anyone could feel.
It’s in these thoughts that I am grateful for my actions the past few years. I knew that time was limited. It seemed like each passing holiday, each birthday, each Father’s Day I couldn’t work hard enough to give him the best gift. Ultimately, I always left myself kicking the past version of me in the butt as I felt the need to top what I had done the year before. But I can honestly say, I lived each year as if it was his last. This is what I am so grateful for. It took a lot of planning, but Rob and I decided that we would talk to my Mom about planning a surprise weekend for my Dad to see his cousins if they were up to taking the trip. I have a similar relationships to my cousins as he did with his growing up. Knowing how important that is to me and how dear to my heart they all were, we embarked of a journey to surprise my Dad with a visit from his NJ cousins. For those of you who know my Dad, you can imagine how difficult a task it is to surprise him.
We hit many bumps in the road and had to reschedule, but in the end, we made it happen. I can honestly say that, to this point, there is no action of mine that I feel more grateful for than following through with this action. Life is crazy for all of us. I remember many times saying to myself, to my Mom, to Rob, let’s just reschedule to another time. But we didn’t. And before we knew it, here were my Dad’s cousins walking up the front walkway getting ready for the surprise of a lifetime. To this day my Mom and their friends talk about how completely surprised he was with what was actually going on that weekend.
But now I sit and wonder whether it was my Dad who gained from this relationship or whether it was myself and my family. From the moment they all walked in, Alice and Jim, Rich and Cherie, Marcia and Joe, meeting them for the first time as an adult, there was no feeling in our heart besides this is family and this is love. It was as if they had been in our lives from the beginning. Our love for them runs deep. I lost my Dad in January, but luckily for my family, we lived in the moment and reunited with his family the spring preceding his death.
Today my Dad’s family stopped by to see us on their way back to NJ. I realized how much I love these people. How much I missed the ones I didn’t see. I realized how grateful I was that everything fell into place for all of us. I realized how happy I was for that time we spent together last May. I remember being tired from all the efforts, but energized from the feeling of accomplishment and pride. Today, I was reminded that while I no longer have my Dad, I do have so many people that were a part of him to keep his memory alive. And nothing makes me happier than watching my son benefit from these efforts.
All of us hear people saying “Life is too short!” I feel like so many people walk around saying “Live in the moment” or “Seize the Day!” But how many of us actually do that? I know I don’t always jump at the opportunity to make things happen. But there was this one time not too long ago, that I did. That one time that I put everything else aside to just live in the moment made all the difference in my life. That time when I said “Hey, life is too short to wait until tomorrow,” made me realize how painstakingly true that statement is. I thank God each day that I don’t live with the regret of waiting until next time. Because my lesson in this situation certainly was that there is no next time. And seizing the day not only made a difference in the life of the man I was trying to please, it made a difference in the life of my entire family. For that, and the fact that this most recent visit got me writing again, I am forever grateful to my New Jersey family!