Day 4. Why I Do This.
Tomorrow we’ll be back to our usual snark and witticisms, but I needed to mark today. I hope you all don’t mind.
Four years ago, September 19th fell on a Friday night. I had just arrived in NYC to spend the weekend reuniting with my best friends from college. It was 10 or 11pm, we were getting ready to go out, the drinks were poured, the music was blasting. My phone began to vibrate – it was my mom calling.
When I look back on the moment I saw her name on my caller ID, my mind goes to some weird places. I have NO idea why I decided to pick up the phone when she called. It was Friday night, I was getting a little drunk with friends, we were on our way out the door. But I answered, and she was crying. “Daddy’s sick, they took him to the hospital,” she said. “Can you come home?” My head started spinning and my hands began to shake. I remember opening up the computer to see that there were no more Amtrak trains running that night.
Then it happened. I could hear my mom start to cry on the phone. When I heard the words “he died,” I remember that I collapsed onto the floor. I remember that my friends fell too, holding me. The rest of the night and the rest of the week was a blur. My friends got a cab to New Jersey so we could pick up someone’s car and drive back to Philadelphia, then I got in a Zipcar and drove to Hershey. I arrived at something like 3 or 4am. My sister was there. The organ donor people called our house at 4:30 in the morning. We planned a funeral mass. We bought weird stuff like urns and prayer cards. The doctors at the hospital told us that he’d had a thoracic aneurysm. People came to the wake and wrote us notes and said the most amazing things. Some people said weird stuff like “I had a heart attack last year, but I survived.” HOW NICE FOR YOU SIR. But that was the exception. Our family rallied around us.
When you experience tragedy, I don’t think there’s a specific time when it “gets easier.” Even last week, four years after my dad’s death, I got teary when Steppenwolf came on the radio because I remember riding in the car with him and how he would drum on the steering wheel to Magic Carpet Ride. I felt his presence over Memorial Day weekend when we were hanging out around a fire at my uncle’s lakehouse. I always get a lump in my throat when I realize how very alike he and my husband are, and how they’ll never know each other the way they could have and should have, and how my nephew would have had so much fun with his grandpa and how my kids will never have that, either.
So, my dad died of a dissecting thoracic aneurysm, which essentially means that he developed a small tear in the wall of an artery right near his heart. A dissecting thoracic aneurysm doesn’t make you drop dead suddenly the way a brain aneurysm does, but it’s not something they automatically test for when you go into the hospital complaining about severe stomach pain, nausea and chest pain. By the time they realized it wasn’t food poisoning or a heart attack, it was too late.
My dad was 54 years old when he died. My parents had just celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary. My sister’s son was six months old. I was 23. He saw me graduate college. He was a great dad to my sister and me and a wonderful husband to my mom. But there’s so much he hasn’t been there to see.
I’m blessed that once he received painkillers for his symptoms that night, he didn’t suffer. I’m blessed that he thought until the end that he’d be going home the next day. I’m blessed that his last words to my mom were “I love you, see you soon” before she stepped out of the room so they could help him use the bathroom. I’m blessed that she didn’t have to see him code and watch his heart stop. I’m blessed with the knowledge that a lot of people were helped by the fact that we choice to donate his organs and tissues*. I’m blessed that I have 23 years worth of wonderful memories of an amazing man.
I know this is an incredibly personal story to share on a public forum, but it forms the cornerstone of why I’m so passionate about what I do. I don’t rant about chemicals in food because I like to be on a soapbox (although, yeah, I like arguing with people, I’ll admit it!). I do it because I’ve seen firsthand how precious and delicate our bodies really are. And we ask so much of them just going through the motions of our everyday life. I’ve seen what can happen to someone that goes their entire lives struggling to follow the conventional wisdom about losing weight and being healthy. My dad spent most of his life behind the wheel of a car or sitting at a desk, yo-yo dieting, being starving every day when all he was “allowed” to eat was bran flakes and fat-free milk for breakfast, a turkey sandwich and salad for lunch, and some whole grain pasta for dinner (inevitably resulting in wanting to – and often – eating an entire batch of cinnamon rolls in a night). And he was TRYING. Trying to keep his fat intake low. Trying to keep his calories down. Trying really, really hard to be “healthy.”
I know that we can’t live in a giant bubble padded with kale. But what I also know is that we owe it to our bodies to be kind to ourselves – to stop eating a certain way because we are told we should by a giant corporation trying to sell us Hot-Fudge-Double-Cheesy-O’s or a government conglomerate that promised the agricultural and pharmaceutical industries a few favors. And each of YOU owe it to your families and loved ones and YOURSELVES to know that no, you don’t have to wake up feeling achy and congested every day. You don’t have to have acid reflux after every meal (and it’s just *not* okay to have to take a pill every single day just so you can eat food without pain). You can actually eat well, without guilt, and enjoy real, whole food, and deadlift several hundred pounds and swing a heavy kettlebell until you’re old. You can sleep through the night and wake up without an alarm or coffee. You can soak up the sun. You don’t have to die at 54. Your body is your own beautiful machine.
Fuel it well.
*PS: I don’t talk about this much at all, but I really encourage everyone who hasn’t to register as an organ donor. I registered myself when I got my license,but it’s not something you really think about until you HAVE to. It’s a stressful and difficult conversation to have on the worst night of your life.
I never knew that it was more than just hearts and lungs that could be donated. I know that the concept is scary or gruesome to a lot of people and I sincerely understand why that can be. I have to say though, I have so much peace with the thought that my dad lives on all around me in the lives that were bettered and saved by the fact that his corneas helped someone to see, his tissues helped burn victims to heal, fragments of bone went to help someone mend after an accident, and so many more that I’m not even aware of. I know it’s morbid to talk about, but it is one of the most beautiful things to come out of this tragedy. It’s a cause that’s very close to my heart, and I hope it’s something you all think about.
PPS: Today I drank my cup of coffee with pastured butter, rowed 750/500/250 at 8am, went to the chiropractor, ate tuna salad with EVOO and whipped sweet potatoes for lunch, and I’m about to dive into lamb chops and kale for dinner. And despite the fact that my day was hectic, I’m so happy. Happy that you guys are just as excited about this as I am, and really and truly happy to see so many of you working really hard to be good to yourselves today and every day.
How’d day 4 go for everyone? Keep the food logging and comments coming! I’m trying really hard to respond to everyone as often as I can!