It’s December 14th and the clock is ticking down to the holidays. Many of us are enjoying the hustle and bustle. The shopping and the office parties. The laughter and the love. Unfortunately, some of us are also dealing with the loss of a loved one right before or during the holidays season. Though the trauma of having a loved one die is not heightened in a tangible way by the holiday season, it does seem to have an extra sting. Surrounded by people who are set to celebrate, we can at times feel like we must keep the pain we are feeling to ourselves as to not upset others. I am here to tell my story in hopes that it can help those who are going through what I am at this time of year. On November 29, 2016 my father suddenly died and I am left feeling very lost because of it.
I’ve always been known to be a Christmas fanatic. I often tell the story about having countless years where I was so excited for the season that I had presents bought and wrapped by Halloween. On a cold Tuesday morning in Toronto, I was busy in between events and meetings when Julio messaged me to tell me he was feeling sick. He needed me to come home to take care of him immediately. Irritated, I cancelled my lunch meeting and headed home, trying to decide where I could find chicken soup and some essentials to take care of him. When I got home, I huffed and puffed like a little boy having a tantrum. Seeing Julio sitting on the couch, I was slightly confused, expecting him to be laying in bed. He told me to sit down. “I have something I have to tell you. Hunny, your Dad died today.”
I felt as though the world dropped out from underneath me. Julio started to cry, and I think for the first few minutes I wept beside him as he rubbed my back and told me how sorry he was. In shock, I paced the condo not sure what to do. Since my family lives in Ottawa, my mind immediately jumped into planning mode. How was I going to get there? What were we going to do with Canela? Julio needed to clear his schedule. I had a press trip to Windsor planned for the next day. I had several blog posts I had to write. What do you mean my Dad died? That’s not possible. I just spoke with him. Oh my god my Mom. Oh my god my brother. Did he know? What do I do?
It’s the most helpless I have felt in a very long time. I think for the first few hours I was in shock. Trying to process the fact that I no longer had my Dad in my life. Julio was an angel that day and told me not to worry about anything related to the blog. He had spoken to Catherine and they would take care of everything. I called Catherine, who not only is a crucial part of this blog, but is also my best friend. I wept on the phone. I couldn’t even utter the words at first… “My dad died Catherine.”
It felt wrong to even say it out loud, as though if I didn’t maybe it wasn’t true.
The next twelve hours are a bit of a blur. I got a rental car and airbnb organized in Ottawa, finding money that I didn’t have during the most expensive month of all for us personally and professionally. I had just reinvested all of our money into advertising and paying bills while waiting for payment as an entrepreneur. I called my mom and didn’t really even know what to say. What do you say when this happens? I didn’t know. I still don’t really.
She told me that earlier that morning my Dad wasn’t feeling well and called in sick to work. He died in his sleep of a heart attack and she couldn’t wake him. He was 56. She couldn’t speak long on the phone since the coroner was still there and they needed to talk to the funeral home to start making arrangements.
“The body is being picked up soon. I’ll have to call you back” she said
I felt sick to my stomach. I was completely helpless to do anything for her with the fact that she just lost her husband. That she went to sleep a married woman and woke up a widow. I called my brother, who always was much closer to my Dad than I. Not that my Dad didn’t love me, but my brother and him were just more similar. Both fiercely intelligent and loving, they shared a really special bond that I always admired. He was crushed and again that helplessness was infuriating. As though I could speed up time, I wanted to hug him and take this pain away. I wanted it to all be over before any of it had really started.
The next few days were difficult to say the least. Funeral home meetings. Bank appointments. Insurance calls. Listening over and over to “I’m so sorry for your loss.” but not really hearing what that meant because I wasn’t ready to. When my mom asked me to write my Dad’s obituary I didn’t know if I could, but for some reason I found solace in the lists of things that needed to be done. I needed to be busy because when I stopped it hurt too much. I used my knowledge of social media when I got the visitation and funeral details organized to disseminate the information to family and friends on my personal Facebook account and via emails. I chose to keep this to that circle of people because the blog has become bigger than I could have ever imagined. While away, Catherine “maintained appearances” and kept up with the necessities of running a small business. For that I will be forever grateful. And to be honest, I wasn’t ready to tell you all at that point. It was a strange limbo for me and I wasn’t in the right place.
While sitting down to sift through hundreds of photos for the service, I found myself smiling. So many beautiful memories of my childhood. Seeing photos of my parents when they first married. It was a moment, surrounded by my husband, my mom, my brother and his incredible wife and my niece, that I now cherish. In something so horrible, we found a little bit of laughter and nostalgia. The photo above is of me and my Dad in 1983. Yes, I know I look a lot like him. He was quite the looker and I like to believe I also got his passion and charm.
Family photo in Montreal
Dad and my brother Alex
Dad and I
The visitation before the funeral saw hundreds of people come through the doors of the funeral home in Ottawa. I met people my father worked with as far back as 25 years ago who wanted to tell us that he changed their career and helped them in so many ways. Unknowingly I made sure that everyone who came to pay their condolences to the family were heard and got the time they needed to speak with me and us. When it was all too much for my Mom and she needed a break, I became the voice of the family. Thanking everyone. Listening to their stories. Ensuring they knew how much we appreciated their support. That’s another trait that I got from my Dad. He always wanted to know how you were and made sure to give you the time you deserved.
It’s only that moment when I stood up during the funeral the following day to read my Dad’s eulogy that it hit me. I stood there and the “strength” people kept telling me I was showing cracked. I fought my hardest to get out the words and I looked around the room to see all the faces of all the people that my Dad had touched in one way or another. These are the words I wrote in honour of my Dad:
I’m not exactly sure how I’m supposed to start off something like this. Over the past week I have been incredibly moved by the love and support that you all have shown my family. I have heard stories for the first time about his life that have offered me a whole new perspective on the man that my father was. Many of you I am just meeting for the first time, but I know that my Dad touched you all in one way or another.
Bernard Desforges was a larger than life personality. I laughed this morning waking up to snow, because he always did have a flare for the dramatic. I can hear him now grumbling with us all as we cleaned off our cars. It’s fitting that he would send us a little reminder like that to start off a tough day. But this morning we are here to remember his life and to celebrate those memories we share of him.
My aunts and uncles made me laugh when they reminded me how my Dad would always start off a conversation by saying “to make a long story short, …” They were never short and when talking with him you could usually expect a few twists and turns on the way to where he wanted to go.
What I love most about my Dad was that he was the kind of person, that despite being long winded, genuinely wanted to know how you were. He loved fiercely and cared for so many of us. He was a mentor, a colleague, an uncle, a grandfather, a brother, a brother-in-law, a husband, a father… and he was my biggest fan.
There are moments where I expect a text from him telling me that he misses me and hopes that all is going well in the big city. And if he was here right now, that big hand of his would be rubbing my back whispering that it’s going to be okay. He’d hug me when I finish and tell me how proud of me he was.
I’m going to remember and take with me my father’s compassion, his big heart, his humour (though I’ll leave the Dad jokes to you Alex), and his view of the world.
The one lesson and memory that I will never forget is my father and his music. Pink Floyd, Styx, Phil Collins, Peter Gabriel, and good old Beau Dommage just to name a few of his favourites. He would sing, not always well, along with them and ignited an appreciation of music in me that I carry to this day. But what is important is that no matter how busy I was, he’d make me stop. “Listen to the lyrics Daniel” he would say. “Really listen.” So I hope you all remember to stop and listen to the lyrics of life.
Even re-reading that is hard today. But I know that my Dad would have appreciated what I had to say on that difficult day.
I guess the one piece of advice I could offer to those of you going through something similar, now that I am back in Toronto and attempting to get into the Christmas and Holiday spirit. is to not force yourself to “go through” the necessary mourning. I miss my Dad every single day and some days are easier than others. I am the kind of person who knowingly tries to distract himself with work, but I know that it’s also okay to cry. I encourage you to surround yourself with loved ones and not isolate yourself. It’s natural to not want to “ruin” someone else’s holiday season by being sad, but those people who really love you won’t see it like that. Lean on your loved ones and understand that just how you would be there for them if roles were reversed, they are there for you. The holidays can be a difficult time of year under any circumstance, but you are not alone in your loss.
I like to remember my Dad decorating the Christmas Tree, listening to holiday classics on the living room radio. It won’t be the same without him this year, but I know that one day at a time my family and I will be okay. Even now as I sit here and write this, I have a mountain of work to do. I am trying my best to keep up with deadlines and to do lists that are a welcome distraction. But at the end of the day, my dad was my biggest fan and would be proud of me that I am showing such strength in lieu of something so terrible. I love and miss you Dad.
The following song reminds me so much of my dad. Though the lyrics are in French, the first verse makes me cry and smile at the same time because it’s so applicable to the way I feel right now.
“Tous les palmiers, tous les bananiers
Vont pousser pareil quand je s’rai parti
J’m’en vas chez nous c’est l’été.
Chez nous y ont sorti les chaises sur la galerie”
This translates to: All the palm trees all the banana trees, they’ll keep growing when I’m gone. I’m going home, it’s summer time. At our place, they’ve taken out the chairs on the front porch.
I dedicate the success of 2016 and my ambition to be a better man to you Dad. This song’s for you.