Four and a half months ago, my blog went live. My dad had just been re-diagnosed with cancer, I deferred my college admission, and I left my job. In many ways, all I was doing was convincing myself I wasn’t lost, but I was. The future was uncertain. If you know me, you know I’m a planner. I strategically plan my days down to the half hour, but I also plan my life. My 10-year plan is clearly set, and though I know it is bound to be disturbed at least seventy-two times, it gives me peace of mind.
If I’ve learned anything these last four and a half months, it is how to make peace with disrupted plans. My dad passed away on what would have been my first day of school. I cannot imagine the levels of anxiety and sorrow I would have felt being over a hundred miles away when his angel was born. I cannot imagine not having been there to tell him how I felt. I cannot imagine not having had my mom to hold me and cry into each other’s arms. Thank God the voice inside silently screamed at me to hit the pause button on school.
I learned more about myself in four and a half months than in twenty years. I learned what I am sensitive to (little things) and what I can push myself to overcome (big things). I always thought it was the opposite. The little moments like laundry being cycled out of the dryer and having one less person to buy Christmas presents for triggered the most water works. Holiday dinners, which I expected to be emotional, exposed my deepest strength. I went from crying at the mere mentioning of my dad’s name in the same sentence as the C-word to speaking and writing openly about his cancer journey and the legacy of his heroism. I learned to brush off everything insignificant as I live in gratitude for waking up each morning. I no longer believe that there is a sorrow comparable to watching the person you love most take his last breath. Living is a gift to be embraced, and no matter how much it can suck sometimes (and I know it does), we have to smile and make the most of it.
During this hiatus, my mom and I got to travel and do things we have talked about for so long. We went Disneyland to see it beautifully decorated for Christmas. We attended tapings of The Price is Right and The Big Bang Theory, two completely different experiences but each was filled with lots of dancing and even more laughter. We’ve been to LA a lot, but my dad would never go on any of the cliché tours. This time, we did a TMZ tour which was hilarious and fun. I met many inspiring people on my travels and made memories that I will one day share with my grandkids. I visited San Diego for a weekend with Kate, and my mom, Amy, and I got to spend time with Colleen in Los Angeles — including dinner at SUR, now how cool is that?!
In just about a week, my hiatus will be over. I’m going back to school and living a normal life again. I will be in an unfamiliar place with people who don’t know this story. I will be a normal college student, making normal friends, doing normal things. I will be busy with school and my sorority, not with care-taking and funeral planning. I won’t be the girl with the sick dad or the girl whose dad died. I will simply be Danielle: Danielle with a fresh start. I will be with people who are not walking on eggshells when I walk in the room. I will breathe again: exhaling confidence and returning my face to that cheek-hurting smile I love so much. But know this — my grief isn’t hardly over; it will be with me my entire life. It merely enters a new stage of being. It is absolutely terrifying to finally take this leap, but my gosh, I have never been so excited!