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It’s pretty safe to say that my father was my best friend.  Growing up, it was just my dad and I.  My parents were divorced by the time I turned four and my brother was significantly older than me.  By the time I was ten, I was living with my father full time. In every sense, my father was the perfect father. He was my absolute best friend, my travel buddy, my mentor, and my go-to on literally every subject – since he was, and is, the wisest person I know.

I found out that my father was sick on August 3rd.  I had been working constantly all summer without a care in the world other than my career.  Everything was seemed almost perfect. I had just graduated from a wonderful university, I had an amazing job and amazing friends, and I was blessed with a wonderful family.  Seemingly out of nowhere, everything changed. My dad was sick, but I was convinced it would be okay.   He had heart surgery when I was 13 and came out fine.  He had a horrible car accident a year after that and came out good as new.  In my mind, and probably in his too, my dad was invincible.

I visited him every single day.  I made the four hour round trip from Columbia to St. Louis because I was so scared of him being by himself and feeling alone.  Eventually, after weeks of tests, the doctors found out that he had a nasty blood infection.  He’d take awhile to recover. His lungs would need dialysis for a while, but he would be fine.  I have never been more relieved than I was on the day that my brother got to drive him home from the hospital.  For the first time in weeks, I could sleep at night, knowing that my dad was going to get better.

In three short days, that changed.  My brother woke me up in the middle of the night. The hospital had called saying that our father had been moved to the ICU. In that moment, I knew. I got out of bed and got dressed, hoping for the best, but knowing in my heart that the worst had come. Out of nowhere.

When the doctor explained that there was no coming back, I genuinely could not believe it.  I ran out of the room.  I screamed that there was no way, that my dad loved me too much, that he would never leave me. I held his hand that day, for almost twenty-four hours, and I never left his side because I knew that he would have never left mine.  After we left the hospital, and I saw my dad for the last time, I took a turn for the worst.  I didn’t know how to process my father’s death.  I couldn’t deal with the feeling, I couldn’t revisit that day, I couldn’t face the fact that my best friend was gone. I didn’t want to.

So I turned to alcohol.  And drugs.  I don’t think I was fully sober for more than twenty-four hours at a time for months after my dad passed.  When alcohol wasn’t enough, I turned to taking drugs during the day and drinking at night so that I would black out as soon as possible.  I was spiraling out of control so quickly that I didn’t – or couldn’t – even take a moment to see the person that I had become.  I was so messed up all the time that I was pushing my loved ones away.  I was either too incapacitated to deal with people or so angry that I lost my temper on those who did nothing to deserve my anger.  Either way, I lost friends and family who loved me because when all they wanted to do was help me, all I did was push them away.

My dad’s birthday was March 19th.  To be honest, all I wanted to do on that day was go back to how I used to be.  Doing drugs, taking shots, anything that would numb the pain and make the day go by seemingly faster.  I didn’t.  I couldn’t.  I couldn’t do it anymore – it was like I had reached my life long limit of screw-ups.  I couldn’t screw up one more time.  I hated the person I had become. I couldn’t look myself in the mirror anymore.  I knew – I know – that if anything, my father would have wanted me to go on.  I couldn’t go on as the person I had become.  I had to change if I truly wanted to succeed in law school, succeed in life, and make my daddy proud.

I will admit that I will never be the girl I was before my dad passed away.  The happiness I knew in my first twenty-one years of life are something of the past.  Today, I can experience a different kind of happiness.  “Happy-then” is different than “happy-now,”  but I do feel happiness again.  I am happy because I have a wonderful stepmother who has stood by me since I was five years old and has continued to do so in the wake of my father’s death.  I am happy because I have an amazing older brother who I truly do owe my life to in the wake of our father’s death. As of recently, he is getting married to an amazing woman that I cannot wait to be able to call a sister.  I am happy because I had the privilege of graduating from a wonderful university and will be attending an amazing law school as a student in the fall of 2017.  I am happy because I have so many amazing friends who, despite my problems after my father’s death, have stuck by me and have been a constant source of love, encouragement, and truly, family.

After my dad got sick, he encouraged me to stay close with my siblings and the rest of my family.  He always was worried about me feeling alone. Sometimes I do feel alone. When I got into my dream law school with a full scholarship, I didn’t know who to call.  It’s not because I am not blessed with wonderful people who love me, because I am. But my dad was always number one, the one I told everything to, before anyone else would find out. I miss my dad so much, and I always will. I still break down crying in the middle of the day sometimes and I still have days where I never want to leave my bed.  Today, I am happy. I am blessed.  Because no matter how hard it is to live my life without my dad, I still have so much to be thankful for.  I can’t forget the million blessings in my life just because the biggest one is gone.

Today, people might look at where I am, with an amazing degree, great work experience, and about to matriculate at a top law school, and say that I am where I am due to some combination of genetics, because of my looks, because of inherited intelligence, or worse – because of some absurd concoction of “privilege” that the liberal elite, without an idea of how I grew up or what my life has been like, has come up with.  I am where I am – despite having divorced parents, an abusive addict for a mother, growing up in a small, rural town where the vast majority of my peers never even considered higher education and many succumbed to drug addiction and even life in prison – solely because of my father.

Any talent that I was born with could have very easily been squandered away if I had succumbed to the environment I was born into. I had the privilege of having my dad pushing me every step of the way.  My father reminded me every single day of the high expectations he had of me and consistently pushed me to achieve my goals.  Without my father in my life, I truly do not know if I would have even lived to see my 22nd birthday and write this tribute.  I owe my dad everything – up to and including my very life.  I know that in the wake of his death, my behavior didn’t make him proud.  However, as of March 19th, I knew that I had to change to make my father proud.  My dad did everything with me in mind, and I owe him the same.

I love you forever and always, daddy.

Also, I want anyone who reads this to know: if you are struggling, whether it be because of the death of a loved one, a break-up, an unexpected life event – whatever – there is help out there.

Reach out to those who care about you rather than pushing them away.  If you need outside help, get it.  You can even text or message me.  If you reach out to FFL, I would be happy to have our team share my contact information with you. I don’t care if I know you or not.

I have hit rock bottom and hit it hard. I would be happy to talk to anyone who is experiencing unimaginable pain if you would find it helpful.  Do not turn to drugs or alcohol. Don’t push away those who love you. It won’t work and I know because I tried it for months. What works is getting the help you need, spending time with your loved ones, and doing your best to honor the person you are missing.  Please know that as unimaginable as your pain may be now, you WILL find happiness again.  It may not be the same, and a part of your heart may always be missing, but you will find life to be worth living again.  On August 28th of 2016, I truly believed that I would never be normal again.  But I found reasons to be a better person. I found reasons to be happy again. You will, too – I believe in you.