As I wrote last month, the same week I was about to publish my prior month’s blog, my daughter Cara sent me something she wrote on the same subject. She said she didn’t have any particular plans for it, she just wanted to get her feelings down on paper, though she thought perhaps at some time she would post it somewhere, with my permission. She did, and I posted it here, with her permission. Then, my other daughter, Cara’s twin sister Julie, sent me something she wrote. With her permission, here it is…

Five months ago, my parents and I went on a beautiful hike in Tuscon, AZ, before my dad’s one-and-a-half day work conference began. A few hours after he headed off to the presentations, my mom told me my dad was back in the hotel room with a fever. If someone told me what would transpire next, I would have called them crazy.

What helped? How did we get through this? What have I learned in the last five months?

Be present. 

My dad spent the next one-and-a-half days in his room fighting a fever. While it was amazing having 1:1 time with my mom in a place I had never been, it felt weird to do it without my dad, and there was obvious concern over how sick he was. This guy is the healthiest person I know. Works out every day. Eats an insane amount of fruits and veggies. When I was growing up, he’d eat hummus and avocado by the spoonful. (Now I do that – haha.) Fills his days with work, adventures, travel, and time with loved ones.

I assumed it was COVID, but he tested negative two days in a row. Fortunately, with the help of Advil and Tylenol, and with the use of a mask, he was able to fly back to New Jersey a few days later. And while it is still shocking what transpired, I was glad we were able to enjoy our trip before heading home.

Fast forward to four days after we got home, I get a butt-dial from my mom at 8:30am. I called her back and, frantically, she shared that she was in her car behind my dad who was being taken to the hospital in an ambulance. The next day, my sister and I went from NYC to NJ after work, and ended up staying at my parents’ house for more than two months. (I went back to the city once to get clothing from our apartment.) As I believe most children would do for their parents, we came home right away without being asked. (Our brother also came home from Detroit a few days later.)

Do not take the health and happiness of your family or friends for granted

A two-week, brutal, shocking, and scary hospital stay ended with my dad finally coming home after major, emergency surgery. Shock, pure shock, was all we felt. We were in survival mode during those two weeks. I was cooking constantly to keep myself busy. Packing each morning for the hospital with nourishing foods for not just my dad, but all of us. My sister, brother, and I spent time there in shifts (due to the two-visitors rule). I remember not wanting to be alone at the house, so any time I left the hospital I stayed out to do errands or just walk into a store to keep my mind busy. The idea of being in the house alone scared me. I wasn’t sure how I’d begin to process what was happening, and most of all how empty the house felt without him. At some point, I did a few yoga classes, but the idea of not knowing what was going on at the hospital was difficult.

While the hospital stay was hard, so was the at-home recovery that followed. There were huge hurdles, and the day-to-day felt fragile and fleeting. Family and friends stepped in to support us, as we supported his recovery. He has always been incredibly active, and after two weeks in the hospital, with little sleep, and despite his “jelly legs” as he called them, his old habits kicked in and he regained strength in record time. The whole experience felt fake. It didn’t make sense that of all people, he would be going through this – this unlucky, fluky situation. It was surreal. But we all knew he would crush the recovery and be back to himself in no time.

Mindset is everything, and your support system is key

Throughout this whole situation, I knew he’d be fine, but I was terrified.

What kept us going? Him. He was calm. He accepted the circumstances that were handed to him, knowing he was in the best hands with the amazing medical professionals, and that he was going to get through it. While he was very sick and not himself, his strength kept us strong and optimistic. It was his strength that helped us at night when we had to come home without him, and helped us get up the next day to go back to see him, knowing he would make it through with flying colors, and be better for it. And that he would be home before we knew it.

Family and friends helped us through, day by day, and I don’t think we could have done it without them. The way my siblings and I came home in an instant to support my mom so she could focus 100% on my dad, and that neither of our parents would be alone during the days at the hospital, was beautiful to see. My mom joked that having three kids was the perfect amount. During this horrible time, she felt very supported. She showed amazing strength and vulnerability the whole time, and I’ll forever be in awe of her.

Love and embrace your passions, even during the darkest of days

Cooking has been a passion of mine forever, and I owe it to my dad’s mom, my Grandma Rhoda, who loved to bake with us as kids. About a year and a half ago, I started an Instagram account where I shared videos of recipes I made. My dad’s 61st birthday happened to be the day before his surgery. It was a difficult day for him. He didn’t feel very well, but I whipped up a homemade tiramisu (my first time making it), and he got to enjoy a small amount of it. One of the first things he said to me after he woke up from surgery was, “Okay tiramisu lady.”

My cooking proved to be a therapeutic outlet for me during this time. While it is hard to eat anything while watching your dad go through a traumatic health emergency, the meals I made, and the ones that friends so graciously sent, kept us, and importantly him, nourished in a time where all else was out of our control. It gave him some normalcy to eat foods he loved and it made me happy to know everyone around me, especially my dad, was being filled with nourishment and yummy, healthy foods.

Treat your body like you’d treat your loved ones, with respect and love

The reason (and I know this to be true) my dad crushed his surgery and recovery and is healthier than ever, is due to the way he has prioritized healthy, balanced eating, exercise, and pursuing his passions for so long. After surgery, the nutritionist didn’t even have changes to suggest (besides medication-related ones). She told him to continue his eating habits “as is” during his recovery. He has always been an inspiration to me, and seeing my dad fight a horrible infection, have his body go through an extremely scary and difficult emergency surgery, and come out of it stronger than ever, proves even more how important it is to treat your body well.

It has reinforced for me that how you treat your body, mind, and soul is extremely important. It has led me to refine how I choose to live my life. Not just what I eat, but what’s in what I’m cooking, what exercise I’m engaged in (not just ones that make me strong, but also ones that feel good and make me happy), what I’m consuming on social media, and so much more. It has also helped me to slow down, which I’m grateful for.

This experience also reminds me how we can be our own worst critics – that we’d never talk to loved ones the way we sometimes talk to ourselves when we’re feeling low or self-conscious. We treat our friends and loved ones with love and respect – we have to do it for ourselves as well. Feeling good in your skin is critical, and I want to nourish my body and treat it like a temple. When I’m 60, I want people to be surprised that I am that age, and say how good and healthy I look, just like people have said for many years to my parents. I want to, if possible, be in the best shape physically, mentally, and emotionally, so that whatever life throws at me, I can do my best to tackle it head on and get through it, just like my dad did. Just like we all did to help him get there.

Live life day by day

What my dad and my family went through has proved to me that my simple high school motto, “day by day,” is still one of my favorite things to remind myself. It’s easy to think about the future and worry, or just wonder what is going to happen. Doing that takes away from who and what is in front of you, in that moment, right there and then. Taking time off from work to be with my family to support my dad, and the time that came after that, is the most present I’ve ever been. I wasn’t worried about my next workout class, my next meal, or even my social calendar that I used to book months out. I was just focused on that moment.

Life is so precious, and I know we are not here forever. I always want to be present with my loved ones because you never know what can happen next, even to the healthiest, most fit and strong people in your life.

Health is wealth

“Healthy” is something that can be defined in many different ways, depending on how you live your life. When people think about “healthy,” it can be subjective, especially in the media, and oftentimes is communicated as: EXERCISE EVERY DAY, DON’T EAT CARBS, INTERMITTENT FAST, NO ALCOHOL, etc. While exercise and balanced eating are important, so are the themes I shared as the headings to each section above. It’s about mind, body, and soul. It’s holistic. It’s about what you’re consuming – food and media; who you decide to spend time with; what activities you prioritize; and how you balance work and life and love and relationships.

What I know is my family is strong, my support system is filled with love, and I believe the impact of what my dad went through is bigger than anyone thinks. I know that anyone who hears his story will be inspired by him, by his habits and the way he lives his life. And I won’t be surprised if I learn it’s changed someone’s outlook or behaviors. If what happened can happen to him, it can happen to anyone.

If this happened to you, or you knew this could happen to one of your loved ones at any moment, what would you change about the way you live your life now? And why aren’t you already living that life? Start now.