WHAT YOU MEAN TO ME HAS MEANT EVERYTHING

(Written yesterday, Monday March 7 2011)

It’s taking me a long time to type this. I’m gasping for breaths and swallowing my heart. I wasn’t sure if I could, or even should, talk about this here but it is my life and it is me and what happened set in motion literally the very foundation for seeing the world with more compassion and, thus, birthed Save the Kales. People ask “What made you decide to be vegetarian/vegan?”  This is what inspired it. So.

Ten years ago today, my dad died.

This is what happened, as I have understood it. It’s hard to know for sure. He had complications with his diabetes and was a big, tough stubborn guy that didn’t monitor it. It lead to an infection in his foot, which started to spread.

I remember visiting him at his place when it first took a turn for the worst. Making him a bunch of sandwiches that he could keep by his bed because he couldn’t get up. He told me it was the flu. It is strange to be seventeen years old and do the sort of caretaker role reversal that usually comes much later in life.

He finally went to the hospital, and they were surprised he was still alive as his blood sugar levels were so high. So much morphine. The infection in his foot spread through his leg, and it would be amputated. A few weeks later I saw the uncovered amputated leg, right at the knee. It looked like someone made a quilt out of my fathers limbs. A perfect square patch craftily sewn on.

During the two months he was in the hospital, we planned. We planned and dreamed. He told me about a desire to move to Memphis, maybe, somewhere with good Blues and good food and good cigars. One day he surprised me. Not particularly a religious man, my father – a big, motorcycle riding, construction man – claimed to have had what he could only describe as a near-death experience. “If someone else were telling me this, I’d think they were crazy”, he said, “But Jaim, I can’t even describe the colors.”

He was looking good. Months went by. Then something went wrong: blood poisoning. The doctors cut him open, holding his organs in their hands, cleaning them, living pulsing pieces, cleaning up an oil spill inside his body.

He had been in and out of consciousness all day. For the couple of months that he was in the hospital, I was able to see him every day. By now a few days had passed and weather prevented a daily visit. On this night, this last night, I arrived at 7pm. He was back in intensive care, visiting hours were very strict, and only had 30 minutes. It was just the two of us.

His eyes were rolling back in his head, then he’d come around and ask me about my day. Making jokes. Eyes roll back. Longer this time. Making a joke about hospital food. When the thirty minutes were up, and we were hugging goodbye, his entire body and mind healed for a moment. He looked at me clearer than he had in months – my dad, back to normal, the sickness instantly drained and replaced by love and strength (and maybe, as I’d come to find out, a knowing). When he told me he loved me I’m not sure he ever meant it as much as he did then.

I don’t know much about sick people, or those on the verge of death, but I think he knew. And I think he waited for me. And I’ve always had peace because of that.

The drive home from the hospital was a difficult one, navigating street signs that become abstract paintings through tears. It was only a five minute drive back to my house. I had just walked in and took off my coat when the phone rang. My mother began crying and saying “Jaime, I’m so sorry…”

I couldn’t understand it then. The way death comes on so instantly. How you can talk to someone one minute and you get home and find out you’ll never be able to do that again. I was too numb to cry. I walked out the front door and began walking. I don’t know where. Down the middle of neighborhood streets, looking around at houses full of families with still-alive fathers, knowing I wasn’t one of them anymore.

When I finally found my way home, my best friend and her Mom had come over after hearing the news, bringing a bagel basket and sympathy cards with my name on the envelope. It didn’t seem right. One commented that I was handling it well. How are you supposed to handle it? He was alive two hours ago. Now he is not.

What are you supposed to do when your father dies? You stand in the kitchen and eat bagels.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

After that happened, I became very sensitive to anything or anyone dying. My Dad’s sickness lead to vegetarianism, and his death was the direct cause of my shift, later, to veganism.

Long before I ever educated myself about factory farming, slaughterhouse practices, and animal abuse, I came to the conclusion: If I were to eat animals, it would be killing an animal’s dad.

My experience with my father’s death – while not something I am ever thankful for, I wish I could call him up right now – launched for me what has become a way of life, and now, my career. With death comes a rebirth.

It’s been meaningful and personal to me to reflect on this. I admit that for the past year or two, all of the information I’ve been absorbing related to veg-issues and lifestyle has been primarily about health and nutrition. I got lazy about the rest of it. We go through shifts in our lives and our focus can change, but writing about this flipped the switch in me to re-educate myself on the other elements of veg-living: animals and animal welfare, the environment, food politics, and so on.

Moving forward, I reinstate a commitment to myself – and to my dad – to live as much to my ability in a way that promotes kindness and does as little harm as possible.

While this post as difficult to write, and for obvious reasons sad, when I think of my Dad I can’t help but laugh because that’s all we did for seventeen years. Our lives together were full of laughter, road trips, vacations to small towns full of antique malls and unique diners, cooking crazy combinations of food, blues music, singing ridiculous made-up songs loudly in public, and love. Lots and lots of love. I wouldn’t trade any of those seventeen years for a longer time spent with someone else.

I miss you Dad. Maybe it will turn out heaven does exist after all, maybe I’ll see you there. You taught me to think for myself and truly embrace who I was, always supporting whoever that would turn out to be. I will continue to carry your heart in my heart.

With love.

“I held him close for only a short time, but after he was gone, I’d see his smile on the face of a perfect stranger & I knew he would be there with me all the rest of my days.”

-Brian Andreas

21 thoughts on “WHAT YOU MEAN TO ME HAS MEANT EVERYTHING

  1. Thank you for sharing something so personal with your readers. I’m sure yesterday was solemn and a day of reflection. How wonderful that you were there for your father. Caring for him and loving him. Hugs.

  2. Thank you for this tear jerker! It was a wonderful story. I do not know you personally, but I feel as though I now know the type of person you are. This was def. something very personal to share. You are an inspiration not only to me, but I’M SURE MANY OTHERS; you live with meaning…and live from inspiration of another(your dad). SO many times people change the way they are for other people and without having a real reason. To experience something so life altering, grasp it, and try and make a difference from it is amazing. Not everyone is strong-willed enough to do this. You should be very proud of yourself and know that with every person you influence who then influences another, we too are are making sure your dad’s heart is carried on. I hope you can now celebrate his life on his anniversary, because everyone dies, but not everyone lives🙂

  3. Jaime,
    I can not express enough gratitude for what you share every day. You are one of the most brave and inspiring people that I have ever met. I sat here for ten minutes trying to figure out what to say to this post, and I still can’t quite put my finger on it. I guess all I can say is; Thank You, Jaime. I hope you can feel all the warm and fuzzy hugs I am sending your way.

  4. i feel so lucky to have heard this story. i was reading it on my lunch break at work and was trying so hard not to tear up. thanks for sharing with all of us.

  5. Jaime,

    Thank you for sharing this. I was always curious to know what happened to your dad over the years, but I didn’t want to ask. I figured if you wanted to share the story so openly, you’d do so one day when you were ready. All the emotions and heart-pouring you give on a daily basis on your blogs takes guts to begin with… I can imagine this took everything you had. You wrote such a beautiful tribute to him. Thank you for being so open about it. 🙂 It made me tear because I had a similar experience with my dad being in and out of hospitals and sick for years. Intellectually, you know you’re not alone… but nothing beats the feeling when you know someone else knows EXACTLY how you feel. Opening up like this might just be the hardest part about your new business venture. Considering you do it with so much class, integrity and honesty… the rest will be cake. 🙂

  6. You are extraordinary and brave. You make such a difference as you stir the soul and inspire with your willingness to expose the soft and vulnerable parts. Thank you for not being afraid to shine your light.

  7. What an amazing story! I came to it only only moments after eating your AMAZING vegan “tuna” salad and declaring that if sick people in the hospital could eat food this wonderful, they would get healed and the world would actually have less sick people….wow it’s mind blowing!! I’m so glad you were able to have such a great father in your life Jaime!

  8. I just found this blog and this was the first post I read, and I cried. Thank you for sharing so eloquently and for creating something so positive out of something so awful.

  9. Thank you so much for writing something so personal. I lost my mom suddenly about 3 years ago, and like you, it pushed me to live a healthier, fuller life in her memory. Reading your post definitely brought tears and touched my heart. Thank you. Being veg and positive is so much easier in this world with people like you to encourage us along the way!

  10. This post was such a beautiful tribute to your father and the way his death inspired you to embrace the sacredness of life. I felt myself nodding while gulping back tears. Your story feels so similar to my own, although I did not lose a parent. Like you, I felt drawn to a compassionate diet after losing someone close to me. After watching a person who wanted to live wither away, the idea of eating someone who also wanted to live and who suffered, became repugnant. It was before I knew the intricacies of factory farming (I learned about those shortly afterwards), but yet I knew in the way that we all intrinsically know… There are many excellent reasons to embrace a plant based diet, and good health is a marvelous one. But to me, there is no greater reason than the peace that comes with eating food for which no one had to suffer.

    If your blog is any indication, I’m sure your father would be so proud of the person he raised.

  11. Thank you for sharing your personal story. It truly makes me reflect on my own experiences and my daughters’ futures in terms of health and nutrition as well.

  12. Pingback: Save the Kales TV: One Year Passed… and a BIG ANNOUNCEMENT! | Save the Kales!

  13. This post really hit close to home. My dad passed away when I was 15 ( of cancer), and I feel like I had some of the same reactions you did. I didn’t cry, but I felt disconnected. It was expected, but it still seemed sudden. Thank you for sharing something so personal and heartfelt.

  14. Hi Jaime! I am just now reading this post, much later than you wrote it. But I learned of your blog through a mutual connection, Phoebe Canakis. I actually grew up in Bethlehem (and was drawn to your recent Musikfest posts), and ended up here! I am now a vegan and living in the Reading area. I also have a blog http://www.watchhatchfly.com. My husband and I eat a vegan diet now after his 2011 heart attack. I began the blog last October and have since met some wonderful people online and in the community. So, I just wanted to say hello. I’m very sorry you lost your dad when you were so young. I am just sure he would be VERY proud of you today. You already know that, I guess. I look forward to reading more, and I hope to run into you someday soon out in the world of plants and animals:) Best, Susan Edelman

  15. Wow this post gave me chills.You gave us such a vivid description of that time. I believe in heaven and I believe in God. I believe that your dad is somewhere safe,and at rest,no longer in that unhealthy state he was in. Heaven is a beautiful place for Gods children!… Godbless you and your family
    -Ivana

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