It was a rainy day in 2013, and I was late for my Interpersonal Communications midterm — the last final of my sophomore media studies career.
As if taking midterms and finals as an undergrad wasn't stressful enough, my dad was laying, stone cold in the intensive care unit at North Shore Hospital, unaware of the fact that this would be the very last time I'd see him.
It's been two years now since I've lost my spirit animal.
Although my father and I didn't have the sunshine and rainbows of a normal father-daughter relationship, we shared many of the same passions and enthusiasms in life: writing, classic rock and the immense need to give love to everyone in our lives.
I lost a huge part of my soul when I lost my dad, and it's only now I'm slowly discovering how he is still teaching me from the other side:
1. Always chase your dreams.
The greatest gift my father ever gave me was the written word. Much like myself, my father was a writer.
I was always fascinated by the way he was able to put words together and play symphonies with nouns and verbs while describing memories and short stories.
Toward the end of his time, he began to write a novel. His dream was to combine all of the greatness he had experienced in his world and turn it into a New York Times Best Seller.
When he passed, I was lucky enough to read the first few chapters he had written. Seeing my father’s unfinished dream inspires me to chase mine and work toward them every day I’m alive.
2. Memories are more valuable than anything else.
When you lose people who are close to you, all you are left with are their things and their memories.
When I began to sort through all of my father’s belongings, I pulled out photos, dust-covered novels, toys and my first softball glove.
Every item I discovered brought about a rainstorm of memories. It’s not about learning to weather the storm, but learning how to dance in the rain. It’s not about keeping my father’s things, but keeping our memories alive.
3. There is nothing in this world that compares to a great guitar solo.
The Beatles, The Who, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
Rolled-down windows and the radio turned up way too high characterized our hour-long drives to upstate New York.
On one of our last trips up to Monticello, Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” (no pun intended) came on the CD my dad burned specifically for the trip.
When Jimmy Page’s solo came on, my dad turned the radio up even higher and slammed on the wheel as if he were the missing back-up drummer Zeppelin always needed.
“When you’re in love, guitar solos will fuel your fire. When you’re feeling down, guitar solos will ease your pain.”
Every time I hear a really great guitar solo, no matter where I am or what I’m feeling, I always smile.
4. When things get rough, you’ll see who really cares.
I’ve gone through numerous friendships over the years by growing out of some and growing apart from others.
My dad was always a peacekeeper, someone who told me holding grudges was worse for you than holding a hotdog too long without taking a bite.
When he left (at a time when I felt more alone than ever), many people who had been long gone from my life reappeared.
In a way, he brought me a flood of love and support at a point when he was unable to provide it.
5. Never leave anything unsaid.
Time is valuable life advice, which I know too well because I never really got to say goodbye to my dad. Sure, I believe beyond this life, the soul lives on, but sometimes I regret the things I left unsaid.
After losing him, I stopped hesitating and holding back on anything I wanted to tell people.
Sure, my friends and family get confused about my sporadic confessions of love, but I know now that life can change in an instant. I won’t let another word die with me.
6. Those little quirks your parents have will, one day, not be so annoying.
When I was younger, my dad’s favorite thing to sing was, “Alexa Gabrielle, I think you really smell.” When I was a toddler, I would laugh at the silly song.
When I was a child, I would argue about how of course I don’t smell, I just took a bath.
When I was a teenager, I would roll my eyes and complain about how I’m no longer a baby and this song is no longer funny.
But now, I’m an adult. Today, this song is better than ever. Whenever I hear it in my mind, I hear it in the exact way my father sang it.
No matter how many times we complain about the annoying or irritable things our parents may do — no matter how embarrassing they may be — they will, one day, be our favorite memories.
7. A good reputation will always live on.
My dad was a people person. He enjoyed being the center of attention, speaking his mind and utilizing his intelligence to spark conversations with friends and strangers alike.
He was an avid reader, a sports lover and a music enthusiast.
To this day, I waitress at the diner my father went to every morning and still run into many of his old friends.
Every Father’s Day and birthday that passes, I’m reminded of my father’s mark on those around him by the incoming flood of stories, kind words and sincere memories my father shared with so many other people.
Although he may be gone, his reputation will forever live on. When you lead the life of a genuine soul, the world takes notice. They continue to speak your name, even if you can’t.
8. You need a lot of things like you need a hole in your head.
I was a spontaneous teenager. I enjoyed getting random piercings and changing my hair color way too frequently.
Whenever I would bounce an idea off my father, his response would be, “You need that like you need a hole in your head.” In my dad's terms: "You don’t need to do it."
Now, whenever I want to make a change, big or small, I think of those words.
A lot of the time, I pass on the impulsive thought to get a new tattoo or change my hair color for the third time this year because, in reality, I need it like I need a hole in my head.
It's important to think rationally about everything you do in life. Impulsive behavior is fun and spontaneous, but not always logical.
9. When all else fails, write it out.
My father was a writer. My father was also a lover, a fighter, an intellect and a man who suffered countless years of depression.
When you’re depressed, there often isn’t much light in sight. I saw this throughout the last few years I spent with him.
Yet, whenever I read a piece of my father’s writing, I don’t find depression and angst; I find hope and prosperity, love and serenity — light.
When you can’t truly find a place to voice your trials, writing it out can be the greatest friend you have.
10. Your health is your wealth.
Was my father the healthiest man in the world? Absolutely not. He hated the doctor, he loved family style dinners and convinced me he was allergic to the gym.
When you have a family and friends, it’s important to remember your health is not only important to you, but it's also important to them.
It’s vital to keep your body healthy and to never go too long without going to the doctor. It’s important to stay in shape, maintain a balanced diet and keep yourself active.
You’re not only doing it for you, you’re doing it for everyone you call “important.”