When something awful happens, it can be a tremendous gift. A friend who had been through the same devastating loss as a 15 year old girl, shared this with meThis was the advice I clung to when my Dad passed away 5 years ago.. Upon hearing the news my Dad was gone suddenly and without warning, I made my way to the airport to fly from Washington DC to Florida. For the full 13 mile drive to Washington Reagan Airport, I screamed in pain and agony. The grief was unbearable. When you lose someone incredibly close to you, your life is divided between what was and what is reality now. Struggling in the months and even years to follow, I tried to keep my heart open and as my wise friend told me looked for gifts from the experience. As I reflect back, the gifts have been strikingly beautiful and life changing.
1. The first gift, Buddha is fine and happy. Two days after my Dad passed. I opened the front door of my parents house and was literally blinded by the brightness of the sun. I called my mom and sister Jenna to the door . I felt compelled to share it with them. As we were standing there, I snapped a picture of the sun. Later on that day, I looked at picture. It looked like a Pink Buddha siting on top of a palm tree. My nickname for my Dad was Buddha. The name stuck because he often rubbed his belly when he was happy or thinking about something. I like to think this was the first gift from him to us letting us know he was okay.
2. The second gift was peace. “When you are in heaven, you experience indescribable peace and the greatest feeling of love you can imagine”. One of my Dad’s close friends, shared a story with my Mom and sisters that was only known to his immediate family. This friend had a serious surgery and while on the operating table had a near death experience. He could see his family outside of the operating room overwrought with concern. He had great visibility to everything that was happening below him as the surgeons worked to restore him. As he watched what was happening below, he felt an overwhelming feeling of love, peace and happiness. He was confused as to why his family was concerned because he had never felt so amazingly good. He shared with us, “Your Dad is that place. I have experienced it. He has no concerns and is filled with utter and complete joy.”
3. The third gift is new experiences and accomplishments. Everyone deals with grief differently. I am the oldest of four girls. Each one of us dealt with our loss in a different ways. My youngest sister became an avid runner. She shared that on her runs, she would talk to my Dad and experience signs that he was still there watching over us. She completed the Marine Corp Marathon with a highly competitive time, only seven months after my Dad passed. Attending the Marine Corp Marathon was such a positive rallying cry for us all to support her and to realize very good things can happen post losing my Dad. We will never forget the people who showed up but continue to be angels on Earth for us to this day.
My sister closest in age, an accomplished educator and elementary school principal, led by example and took the opportunity to help her staff prioritize what is important and take time out with family for the special moments in life. My other sister also a successful educator, invests time to reach out to everyone by phone connecting regularly. My Mom keeps many of our traditions in tack but also has grown in so many ways, her strength and commitment to family is our greatest example now.
My outlet was to go the golf course and play golf. I had never really played the game but a handful of times. When my Dad was here, he took me for a few rounds. We shared laughs about the decisions I would make lining up a shot or about my life in general. I found needed a place away from my family, it had been a year and I was still an emotional mess. By myself, as I walked the course and worked on my game, I could feel his presence. There was no question Dad was there with me. I went so often that I managed to establish a handicap and come in third in our women’s club championship. Something that I had never set out to do but was another gift stemming from the experience.
4. The fourth gift was the ability to give back to the community. We established a not for profit to keep my father’s legacy alive. Dad mentored kids who did not have strong father figures or just in general needed help. Dad had a true soft spot for the athlete who had a good heart, tried hard, but was not the strongest student. “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard” was one of his many motivating phrases to keep kids he worked with focused.
We established the Ted Rullo Foundation which has now provided 4 college scholarships to deserving student athletes. This is a small way to keep my Dad’s passion for assisting student athletes going. This was a tremendous healing opportunity for myself, my sisters, and my Mom. There is no prescription stronger than doing something nice for others.
There have been so many gifts to my family since that terrible day. Stories about my Dad that we never knew. New friendships with people touched by his life. We also have gifts that we share with others that would not have been possible prior to profound loss. All of us now have the gift of empathy for others who lose a loved one. More than empathy, we are propelled to act to help those grieving when we can. We all have the gift of living for the moment and making the most out what life has to offer. We share a deeper faith and understanding that God has a plan for all of us.
In this world, we are all connected. If you are deep in grief, look for the signs and stay open. My girlfriend who offered that life saving advice that titles this blog, shared with me two years ago that her Dad passed on January 5th. That day happens to be my birthday. I have come to learn there are no coincidences. Another powerful piece of evidence of the greater plan, is watching my niece who just turned three. Watching her giggle, play, and smile is a beautiful sign of life in all of it’s abundance. By the way, did I tell you that she touches her belly when she is thinking? Buddha is fine and happy.