When you work in a place where loss is an every day occurrence, it changes something in you. Empathy is always there, yes, but when you’ve seen so much loss so often you begin to get a little numb to it. That’s a harsh reality of the medical profession. And it’s not to say that you’ve become cold or indifferent. Not at all. It’s just that the acceptance of loss can be part of your routine. It loses some of its smack that way and you catch yourself saying those time-honoured clichés… it’ll be ok or it’ll get better with time. But loss has a way of reaching you when you least expect it. An unwanted surprise when the phone rings in the middle of the night.
I guess I keep my cards close to my chest. I don’t usually air what I’m feeling. I internalize a lot. But perhaps writing this blog is cathartic, maybe even selfish, as I hope to find some solace in sharing the experience of loss with others. Maybe they’ve been down this road. Or maybe this is just my way of filling the void. Doctors often find a place to hide their emotions, take a deep breath and deliver bad news. I never quite developed the skill for it. God bless those who have. It’s probably why I chose a specialty that deals largely in fixing things when they can be fixed. There are always better odds on a happy ending.
But life is predictably unpredictable. As soon as we are old enough to understand what it means to live and breath, we realize the antithesis. Yet no matter the duration of this knowledge, the loss of a loved one is overwhelming, like being hit with the harsh truth of life, smacking you in the chest, leaving you breathless.
Last month, my father-in-law, Richard Taylor, passed away suddenly of a massive heart attack. He was 65. He was not only Allison’s dad but also my children’s “pops,” and my friend. The relationship between a father-in-law and his son-in-law is storied to not always be an easy one. Rick made it look easy. He taught me that it was ok to live different lives, to try and accomplish different goals, to wear different hats, as long as you had the equipoise of family first. That piece of wisdom has meant so much to me.
I’m travelling home, trying to reconcile a memorial service, which I just attended for someone who had such a large influence in my family’s life. The service itself was a beautiful and moving tribute to a dynamic, caring husband, father and grandfather.
With a fire truck standing guard outside, and a sea of black uniformed solemn fire fighters inside, surrounded by family and friends, it concluded with a five-bell salute, the fire code that the truck is home safe and sound. There were multiple testimonials about the different facets of Rick’s life as a fire fighter, paramedic, pastor, youth leader, friend, and colleague. It was a heartfelt capture of his life. There were many sad moments, many breathtaking memories, but perhaps the true reflection of his life, his true memory, was in his grandchildren playing happily while remembering their pops with the innocence that only belongs to children.
But the void is still there. I see it most dramatically hanging over Allison’s head. She smiles for the kids’ sake. She greets friends and visitors. She’s being the rock she’s always been. But look closer. There’s that thousand-mile stare that comes with grief. Loss is hard but seeing how it weighs on the ones you love, that feels even harder. I started writing this by wondering what fills that void. What gives you your breath back. Then it hit me. It’s not about the void. It’s about celebrating the legacy. Rick’s is already overflowing with the love of his family and everyone who remembers him.
I’ve done countless presentations on Broken Earth to audiences of all sizes. But the thought of having to stand up in front of group and say a few words about Rick… that, that was the most intimidating. Below is an excerpt of my remarks from his service that I wanted to share with you…
“Pops” lived his life with the frequently proclaimed mantra: Peace and Love. He did this by committing his life to service. In fact, I think it is accurate to say that he lost himself in service to others in need, and thereby to God and most importantly, to his wife, daughters and family.
I first met Rick in 1997, before Allison and I were dating. It was immediately obvious that he had an intense and immense love of life. Since those years, I was privileged to learn myself how to open my heart… to learn from him that there are no limits to love.
Rick always led by example. He ran into buildings from which people were running. Flew into accident scenes from which people were fleeing. I often wondered how many people are alive today, how many people can live freely today because of Rick’s courage and service to others.
Rick was a spiritual person. He served God and his community. I was a full-fledged member of the family when Rick was a pastor and I observed his dedication to the community: baptizing, running church camps, officiating at weddings, administering the last rights. Rick was a spiritual leader.
Beyond saving lives and his spiritual ministry… even beyond golf… Rick’s most heartfelt service was to his family. His commitment to his family is something I strive to emulate daily. His love and dedication to his wife was the stuff of art… forty-four years! I’ve watched Rick and Deb interact with such poetic flare, such music, that they always seemed to be on their first date. Rick’s smile was always a tad wider when Deb was in the room.
In truth, because of his dedication to Allison, I owe my family life to Rick. The day Allison’s medical school application was due, Rick had to race across town to get a transcript and have it post-dated the same day. When the first post office was closed, he raced to another one and begged the clerk to post-mark it for that day even though they were closed. He pleaded that his daughter’s future depended on it. How easy it would have been to quit at the first post office. And how different my life would be!
His love for his grandchildren was what we read in storybooks. Meeting us in Disney, taking Maggie on stroller rides around Washington, Rachael to soccer, Mark to hockey. The endless trips to movie theatres and local stores for treats. Yes, pops was a storybook grandfather. My children are blessed to have had him in their lives.
As a family we are all stronger for having known him. We are more caring for having loved him, and more courageous for having had him in our lives. I take great solace in knowing that his spirit lives in our hearts and especially in the hopes and dreams of his grandchildren.
When people question the current state of the American Dream, I suggest we point to Pops. When they wrote the famous words: Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the founding fathers had people like Rick in mind.
Life: Rick lived life fully. He loved life and he made the lives of those around him better.
Liberty: from a rough start, Rick rose through the ranks and seized the day… the freedom to raise a family and love them with every fiber of his being. And he always found the freedom for his second great passion: golf.
Pursuit of Happiness: for Rick, there was no “pursuit” of happiness. Happiness was a by-product of his being… with his family and his community… and all those magical moments that gave his life such rich meaning.
Let us be grateful for the presence among us of one who truly lived the American Dream. Peace and Love, Rick… Peace and Love.
For Allison, for all members of the Taylor family, and everyone else whose life Rick touched. For those out there tonight dealing with a loss in their own life. For us all. Find the peace that comes in knowing that cherished memories are eternal. Find the love in every moment with the ones you love. Hold them in your heart. That’s how you fill the void.