“It’s a long ways from your heart.” These were the famous words of my dad when I was growing up. Not only were they words of perseverance, but they also epitomized my dad’s personality and work ethic. However, while they have helped me find strength and comfort throughout my life, they couldn’t help me handle the grieving process I was about to experience when last November, my dad passed away of a massive heart attack.
Being more than fifty years older than me, my dad and I were literally generations apart. Born in the middle of the Great Depression in the Pacific Northwest to a family of loggers, my dad grew up with very little. He was extremely athletic and went to college on a football scholarship where he also participated in track and basketball. He was drafted into the Army halfway through college, became a well-known amateur boxer on the West Coast, received his master’s degree at University of Oregon, and participated in a number of activities such as marathon running, bird dog hunting, golfing, skiing, and fly fishing. Thus, it was with no surprise that during my upbringing, he emphasized the importance of education, independence, personal responsibility, and perseverance. He also was a very proud, and sometimes stubborn, man who didn’t take charity easily, and while my dad and I didn’t always see eye-to-eye, he truly was my hero. In my mind, he embodied strength, intelligence, and persistence, and I was so proud to call him my dad especially when thinking about all he had accomplished.
Unfortunately, for the better half of my life, I had to watch my dad fight to keep his independence that he was so proud of when he started experiencing symptoms of a hereditary motor neuropathy in his late fifties. In my dad’s case, this slowly progressive disorder primarily affected his legs and feet by initially causing muscle weakness and nerve damage that slowly made walking more and more difficult. While he handled the disease fairly well as it didn’t affect our lives too much in the beginning, the last four or five years of his life proved much more challenging. Not only did walking become extremely difficult, but also moving around in general required much exertion and patience. He began to lose strength in his hands, and other parts of his body started malfunctioning as well. Eventually, I knew that he considered himself a burden since it was now up to my mom and I to take care of him and help him with things that used to be simple. No words can describe the emotions one feels when seeing their hero, let alone their dad, be at war with his own body trying to hold onto what little independence he still had. I saw the man who epitomized strength and endurance lose his fight, but I remained true to what my dad had taught me and remained strong for him and my family while he slowly crumbled.
When my dad finally passed away in November 2011, the weight of the loss was extremely heavy, but again, I also understood that I had responsibilities that needed to be taken care of. Not only did I have a mother to go comfort and help, but I was also only six weeks away from final exams at college and working two jobs. So I took the week off, went home, took care of what needed to be done, returned to Grand Rapids the following Monday and picked up where I left off. I knew my dad wouldn’t want me to spend more time than necessary mourning his death and let everything I’ve worked so hard for go to waste. Unfortunately, the loss of my dad was only the beginning of a long list of unfortunate events to follow, and every month provided a new challenge from putting our house into foreclosure to having to find a new family for our dog. Yet, again, I remained true to what my dad taught me and never let my responsibilities to work, school, or family fall to the wayside.
The values and work ethic instilled in me by my dad helped me persevere this past year, and I can honestly say that I don’t think I would have made it through it without his guidance. However, there is one thing that it has not been able to help me do which is to grieve. At times, I still feel as if I haven’t fully processed his death because I’ve worked so hard at doing what I’ve been told to do which is be strong, fulfill my responsibilities, and handle all that life has thrown at me. I feel as if life needs a pause button, but maybe the truth is that I will never fully accept the loss of my dad. Maybe I will always be grieving in some way throughout my life. What I do know is that things don’t get better; life just happens. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, and sometimes the bad comes in bundles. All I can do is keep putting one foot in front of the other applying all the wisdom and values that my dad has taught me into my life, so that I can be a daughter he can continue to be proud of.
Devyn Quick is the circulation coordinator for West Michigan Woman magazine. She is originally from Harbor Springs, Michigan, and she recently graduated from GVSU. Devyn enjoys painting, crafts, reading, and exploring the great outdoors.