Introduction to My WIP Retrospective Memoir, “Dad’s Lessons”

To Dad

From your little Larris

I love you always.

It was 4:30 in the morning, and I had been sleeping soundly for the first time in what felt like weeks. All of a sudden, my mom burst into my room and awoke me with a start. Tears were streaked across her face and her eyes were bloodshot, evidence that she had been crying for awhile. I sat up quickly in my bed and, fearing the answer to my question, began to talk to her.

“Mom, what is it, what’s wrong? You’re scaring me,” I asked her, with trepidation.

She then burst into tears right in front of me. Quietly, she said the three words that would change my life forever.

“Dad is dead.”

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The minutes, hours and days that followed were a complete blur. After my mom told me what had happened, I broke down bawling. I could not register that my hero, the person I so looked up to in the world, had been taken from us. I felt paralyzed with fear and despair. And seeing my mom in the state she was in put me over the edge. I had never felt so much pain in my entire life.

I slowly got out of bed and walked towards her. I embraced her, and we both cried into each other’s arms. As the oldest of the three kids in our family, I knew in that moment that my role in the household had forever changed. I knew I needed to be strong for my mom and my brothers, and approach every situation now with enough maturity and perspective to support my loved ones. I told myself that my Dad would be looking down on me, and instilling that strength in me to carry on.

I guided mom out of my bedroom into the dark and chilling hallway. Every inch of our house looked hollow and bleak now with the knowledge that Dad would never walk through those hallways again. I had a pit in my stomach and a lump in my throat. I was clutching for oxygen, but it would not come. My Dad was my life blood, and he wasn’t there. I couldn’t stand the thought of what life was going to be without him.

Mom and I walked back into her bedroom. From there, she told me to hand her the phone, and she proceeded to call her best friend Venus to tell her the news. Venus and Mom had been neighbors since before I was born, and had formed a very close friendship over the years. I could hear Venus breaking down in sobs through the other end of the phone line as mom spoke to her about what had happened. Venus always loved Dad; her husband, John, was one of Dad’s closest buddies. Dad had often called John “The King,” as a term of endearment. Within minutes, both Venus and John arrived at our house as mom prepared to tell my brothers, Jack and Charlie, the news. All the while, I sat frozen in my Dad’s big armchair in my parents bedroom, unable to move. I could not begin to imagine a world without my father in it. He was my light, my best friend, my everything.

I heard Charlie and Jack sobbing quietly as my mom brought them upstairs to the bedroom. Venus and John were behind them. For a few minutes, no one said anything. Everyone was quiet, save for the muted sound of tears falling from our faces to the floor. The universe had come to a stand still. And all I kept seeing in front of me was my Dad, so close to my heart, yet now further away than ever. My body clenched up and withdrew into itself. I felt empty without his presence to reassure me. I had no idea how I was going to get through this.

My dad passed away when I was just 22 years old, from complications following a car accident. He had been coming home from a funeral with my mom and fell asleep at the wheel from exhaustion. At the time, his proprietary holding company had just begun taking off, and so he was under a lot of stress to build a name for the firm and attract success. I was not in our hometown of Rye when the accident occurred. At the time, I was staying in New York City for the night. Around 9pm on Sunday March 5th, my mom called me as and I had been settling in for bed, to inform me that Dad had been rushed to the hospital with severe spinal injuries as a result of the crash. I quickly gathered all my belongings and rushed out to Rye to be there for my mom and brothers. I wanted nothing more than just to see my Dad and hold his hand. He and I were so similar that I was known to him, and many of our close family friends, as “Little Larris,” a spin-off of his name Larry (short for Lawrence). I needed to be close to him, to look in his eyes and feel his warmth, and know that he was alright.

The train ride to the White Plains hospital from Grand Central on that fateful night felt like it was hours long, when in reality it was only a 40 minute trip. As soon as I arrived at the emergency room, I saw my mom – looking disheveled – speaking to the doctor and nurses and asking for an update on my Dad’s status. The doctor told us that he was in critical condition, but his vitals were stable. He would have to undergo spinal surgery that evening, as a result of some of the trauma he had endured in the crash. Hearing this, my mom began to cry quietly in front of me, my brothers, as well as the doctors. Seeing her in this much pain, and simultaneously hearing the doctor list the potential risks of the surgery to us all, was too much for me to bear. In that moment, I had to escape the sterility of the ER waiting room and so I ran outside into the cold night air to catch my breath.

Outside, I sobbed loudly and felt my stomach churn inside my body. I was helpless. Nothing I could do or say in this instance would provide any comfort to my mom as we awaited the results of Dad’s surgery, the details of which sounded alarming. I stared up into the night sky, but found no solace from the excruciating pain that I felt within every fiber of my being. Dad was in grave danger of becoming paralyzed, or enduring brain damage as part of the surgery. There was a small chance that he could die on the table. I could not move from the spot I was rooted to in front of the sliding doors to the hospital. A nurse came outside and tried to coax me to return to where my family was, but I was frozen in time. I felt lost. The future looked grim.

That night, my mom, my brothers and I spent the night in the ER waiting room, nervously anticipating the results. Thankfully, around 5 am, the doctor came out of the operating room and informed us that Dad’s surgery had been successful and that, though he was lethargic, he was in good spirits. We could see him within the hour.

As soon as he was allowed visitors, my family and I rushed into his room in the hospital to be by his side. When I walked in to greet him with a big hug, I saw Dad was wearing something the medical staff called a “halo,” which was neck brace attached to his skull and spine to help keep him upright. Other than this jarring contraption attached to my father, and his groggy speech, he really looked to be in good condition. I rushed over to his side and began crying into his neck, so relieved to see him alive. My mom and brothers were beaming with happiness.

Over the next few days, Dad seemed to get stronger. I had taken off work as soon as the accident had occurred, so I was able to be by his side. Our family had set up camp in the waiting room adjacent to the hospital wing closest to Dad. The doctor who had conducted his surgery had been monitoring him closely, and had tasked a physical therapist to come work with him to regain his strength. Dad would need extensive help in being able to walk steadily with the halo after the surgery, so he spent two hours each day with the physical therapist to build up his stamina. Five days went by, and Dad was now joking around with us again; the post-operation fog had lifted, and his lethargic feelings seemed to have gone away. He was his passionate, energetic self again, joking around with me, mom and my brothers. He even started to talk about organizing a ski trip – to us, he was known as the “Ski Nazi,” a nickname we had coined to signify his unparalleled passion for the sport. He had instilled in all of us that same obsession for skiing since before I could remember. I always looked forward to our family ski trips, as Dad taught us everything worth knowing about skiing . No feeling could top the exhilarating high of speeding down the black diamond runs with Dad on our favorite back bowls  in Vail, or in the glades at Killington. I was a proud Daddy’s girl, his “Little Larris,” and I couldn’t have been happier about it.

Mom, Charlie, Jack and I watched Dad improve his motor skills at the hospital each day. We slowly began to feel more and more certain that he would be just fine. In reality, he was experiencing what doctors call a “surge,” meaning a sudden last burst of energy before an ultimate decline. We had no way of preparing for the upcoming events to follow in the second week of Dad’s recovery.

After his sixteenth day at the White Plains Hospital – Intensive Care Unit, Dad’s doctor said he was well enough to be transferred to the regular hospital. We all accompanied him as he was taken to his new room and got him settled in. Mom suggested that we all spend the night at home that evening, which would mark the first night away from Dad since the accident. We were comfortable in doing this, though, as we had seen signs of Dad’s progress. He was on the road to recovery. Or so we thought. That evening, Dad suffered a blood clot at 4:15 in the morning that resulted in his untimely passing. And, with the blink of an eye, all of our lives changed forever.

Every day that followed Dad’s death, I would wake up in a cold sweat around six in the morning. I would try to imagine that the nightmare we were all living in was just that, a nightmare that would end any second. It was impossible to believe my Dad would never hug me again with his muscular, yet comforting arms. All I wanted was to smell the tasteful Ralph Lauren cologne that he lacquered on every morning before he went to work. I wanted to hear his contagious laugh lighting up the room. I wanted to sit by him in our den at late hours and watch him work tirelessly at his desk, vodka gimlets in tow, as I studied on the couch adjacent to him. My whole world felt like it had been ripped to shreds. Without Dad, how could I exist?

Only, I knew I could. I knew I had to. Dad had bestowed upon me a multitude of important legacies: work hard, stand by your family, be humble, persistent, and above all, good-natured and strong. As “Little Larris,” it was my duty to ensure that I do everything in my power to live up to these legacies and be the pillar of strength for my family. My mom, my brothers, my grandmother – they all needed me to step up to the plate. Dad needed me too. So I would do it, without question, because I was my father’s daughter and that was the biggest gift I had ever been given in this life. To persist, and carry on, in the face of this horrific trauma was the only option.

In the aftermath of Dad’s passing, aside from helping my mom and family with whatever they needed to get through each day, I spent a lot of the time leading up to Dad’s funeral writing my eulogy and reflecting on how I would articulate my admiration for my father to the hundreds of people that would be in attendance on Sunday, March 11th. Every word I wrote and, ultimately, would say aloud on the podium would be etched in history and my family’s and friends minds forever. It was crucial that my speech be both poignant and personal. Words didn’t seem like enough of a tool to do justice to the amazing father, husband, son and friend that my Dad was. But I somehow was able to put pen to paper and begin writing. My Dad was my inspiration throughout the whole process. As difficult as it was to do, I knew I would make him proud with this eulogy. I owed him my every happiness, and honoring his life and achievements was something that I knew I could do with his voice inside my head cheering me on.

On the morning of the funeral, I woke up at first feeling light headed and nervous. This day would be one of the hardest I would ever have to endure. It was a daunting prospect, the idea of having to face a huge crowd of people and share my eulogy. For a few minutes, all I wanted to do was crawl back into bed and hide from the world. But then I remembered who this day was for. Dad. His will, his determination, and drive pushed me to break through my fear of the upcoming day and be strong.

With my Dad as the guiding force in my brain, I managed to dress myself in a simple black suit that my mom had picked out for me. I then helped my mom and my brothers get dressed. Venus and John arrived around 9:30 am to drive us to the funeral in their black SUV. It was so quiet in the car ride, and it was if time had paused and we were in an alternative reality. Nothing about what we were about to endure felt right. I found myself feeling sick all of a sudden. My hands were beginning to feel heavy and slack. Tiny beads of sweat started to creep up around my hair line, and I felt the striking need to ask Venus to pull the car over so I could dry heave. I knew, though, that my Dad was watching over me and wanted me to push through this pain. To get over the hump. To ski over the toughest of moguls, like he had always taught me on the slopes. So I decided in that instant to let every worrisome, nerve-wracking thought that came through my head pass by me like a train in the night. I would not allow these thoughts to overwhelm me and run me down. I would not let the train overtake me and my strong will that I knew I had. I was resolved to succeed in making my Dad proud.

We arrived at the funeral home around 10:30 in the morning. It was a cold, crisp day in March. The sky was gray and bleak; it was as if the elements themselves knew what had transpired, and were mourning along with me and my family.  As we walked into the grand hall, it was clear that we had a full house; every bench in the large room was packed. Friends and family who couldn’t find a place to sit were leaning on the walls of the room. I felt a strong sense of pride to be the daughter of my wonderful father, who had touched the lives of all the people in this room and probably countless more. I knew I was ready to give my eulogy.

The funeral procession began shortly after 11am. First to make a speech was my mom’s lifelong friend and confidante, Leslie, who my mom had met when she first started working. Leslie had seen my parents entire romance unfold from its very beginning stages. Her speech was uplifting, deep, and powerful. Next up was my Dad’s best friend Todd, who had been his roommate at Fieldston, a private high school they had attended together. Todd was godfather to my brothers and I, and so we had a special relationship to him. Like Leslie, his eulogy was emotional and moving. He touched on the wonderful experiences he had with Dad, everything from ice picking together in British Columbia, to backpacking through Europe, to raising their kids and splitting beers on the chairlift during ski weekends together in Stowe and Killington.

Finally, it was my turn to speak. I was sitting in the front row with my family, and so was only a few steps away from the podium. I rose from my seat and turned to face the crowd before me. All I saw looking back at me from the crowd was my Dad’s face. I was crying, and had been for what felt like months or years, but I knew I could do this.  And I did. I began to speak with all the strength, conviction and determination I could muster.

                      Speech for Dad

                            3/11/2012

My dad had an energy and a passion about him that was unparalleled. As his daughter, or affectionately referred to by him as “Little Larris,” I can truly say that he has made me the person I am today. And, I’m even happier to say, I inherited many of his features and likeness that I will be able to carry with me for the rest of my life.

His brilliance and unwavering commitment to his work, his family, and his friends has inspired me. I am so blessed that Charlie, Jack and I have a father like him, and that my mother has a husband like him to love eternally.

Dad might not have known this, but even just his presence and knowing he was close by was a huge comfort to us all, up until his very last days. Whether it was drinking beers on the train home Friday nights after work while catching up on our weeks, watching “Without a Trace” together in our den in our old house, or just commuting together in the mornings, even if we were too tired to speak, just having him next to me meant so much to me. Charlie, Jack, Mom and I feel so loved and grateful for his warmth and the immense amount of opportunities he has given us.

I want Dad, and you all, to know that he was a great teacher and guide to our family. He loved skiing and taught all of us everything we know today about the sport. I think my brothers and I were skiing before we could even walk. Even though he sent us to ski school to give my brothers and I the best training available, it was really the schooling we got from Dad that made me the skiier, the friend, the sister, and the daughter I am today.

I am so grateful and happy that I got to witness Mom and Dad’s wonderful, big love that has inspired me and given me and my brothers a true model of a great relationship. Not many people can say that. Their beautiful marriage has given me something to cherish and remember forever.

Dad’s love for us is what will get us through this difficult time. I am so thankful for all the support my family and I have from everyone here. My Dad would be so appreciative. His love and care, and his passion and energy for everything he touched will follow us all and be with us forever.

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My father has undoubtedly been the single most important figure in my life. He approached every experience and challenge with determination and enthusiasm. I am blessed to have had such a strong relationship with him for the 22 years of my life that we had together.

A part of me feels Dad has never left our family, or this Earth. I still feel his presence in our home everyday. It is both bittersweet and soothing to know he is watching over us.

Dad brought so much to this world while he was alive and I feel everyone should know about his story, his life, and his legacies. He has forever changed me for the better, and I know the lessons he taught me will be valuable for others to learn as well.

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