Today is the 9th anniversary of my Dad’s passing.
I used to believe that someone’s story ends with their last breath. Well, I was wrong.
My Dad’s last chapter was still in progress even after he left this earth. On the anniversary of my Dad’s passing, this blog closes in on how his story ends, and how my Mom’s new chapter begins.
My Dad was a perfumer in the fragrance industry. His company’s biggest account was Dial Soap, located at the time in Scottsdale, AZ, and he traveled out there on business a few times a year. I remember every time he would return home, he would say to my mom, “When we retire, we’re moving to Arizona.”
She would reply, “What’s in Arizona besides cacti, cowboys, and tumbleweed?”
He’d always try to describe it’s beauty, how clean and peaceful it was, but my mom wasn’t having any of it.
Years (and many trips) later, Dial offered my Dad an amazing opportunity: they wanted him to develop, recruit and run the company’s brand-new perfumery division. Intrigued, he ventured back out to Arizona to see what it was all about. When he returned home, he told my Mom that he was interested, but wouldn’t make the decision until she was completely on board. At the time, I had just graduated from college and entered one of the worst job markets to date. I was struggling to find a job within my chosen major (along with thousands of other, equally hungry candidates).
In my defeated state, I ended up walking in on this very conversation between my parents. My mom turned to me and said, “Do you want to move to Arizona?” I was dumbfounded.
“Arizona? What’s in Arizona?”
Dad suggested my Mom take a trip out there to see exactly what Arizona had to offer, and I tagged along. I was skeptical, but open-minded. I remember landing and looking out the window at the flat desert landscape. When we walked out of the airport on that hot June day, the smell of mesquite danced through the air and I felt warm. Not in a June, dry heat sort of way, but in a “this feels like my next great adventure” kinda way.
Within two days of touring The Valley of The Sun, my Mom and Dad wanted to look at houses. While they perused listings and open houses, I planted myself by the hotel pool to drown my unemployed sorrows in some frosty cocktails. After just a week of Arizona adventures, my parents decided to leave New York and start their next chapter in the desert sun.
My Dad had to move right away for his new job, so I opted to forego my job search on the east coast and venture out with him. My Mom stayed behind to sell the house in New York, but she made frequent trips out to Arizona to accompany my Dad to many open houses. They couldn’t find anything they loved, so they took the plunge: building the house of their dreams from scratch. Since mom was still back east, she asked me to help decorate the house. I happily took on the job, creating a space that we would all start a new life in. I never did live in that house with them, but I visited often. It felt like home. It took eight long months for my mother to sell the house in New York. But once she arrived in Arizona, her and my Dad’s dream house was ready.
My Mom and Dad were born and raised in New York, so moving across the country to a different landscape and a different climate, without knowing a soul, was a huge deal. However, they adapted to their new life immediately and never, EVER looked back. They happily opened their home to family, friends and Dad’s colleagues. Many dinners were shared at their dining room table, pool parties became the norm, and, each night, the hot desert sun shined down on their gorgeous mountain view. If anyone dropped by for a visit, Dad always started the tour in the kitchen and pointed out the window: the one with a breathtaking view of the McDowell mountains. His script was always the same: “You see this view? This view is why I moved here.”
He was so taken by that view. He and mom earned that view, and never took it for granted.
Mom and Dad traveled back to New York for holidays to visit my siblings and their grandchildren. No matter what time of year, or how long they stayed, they always looked forward to returning to their desert-loving life.
Ten years into their Arizona residency, my Dad became ill, and was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). CML is a disease in which the bone marrow makes too many white blood cells. Those living with CML become frail and weak and some days it’s too much to even move. My Mom took such great care of my Dad, making sure he was getting the best care both at home and on those frequent hospital visits. Even after he went into remission, life slowed down for them both. My siblings and I felt it was time for them to move back east, but they chose to stay in their dream home with that gorgeous mountain view, living “the good life” as my dad put it.
After five years of fighting the good fight, my Dad passed on April 30th, 2010. He was on a trip back east with my Mom and, towards the end of their stay, his health failed. Life comes full circle, as he took his last breath in the place where it all began: New York. After his passing, my siblings and I thought our Mom would close up the life she and Dad had in AZ and move back east. But she didn’t. She loved AZ as much as my Dad did. She enjoyed Arizona and continued to call it home for the next nine years. I believe it was because it was the last piece of the life she had with my Dad. Their dream house was how she kept the memories of him alive and was her way of keeping him close to her.
A few months ago, my Mom spoke to my siblings and I about her decision to sell the house and move back east. While we were all happy with her choice, we were also surprised, and I found myself feeling a sudden sadness for my Mom.
I felt sad that she was leaving a place she loved and the people she had met who made it feel like home.
I felt sad for the house her and my Dad built together and made memories in, that now had a ‘for sale’ sign outside
I felt sad for the view of mountains she would no longer have.
I felt sad because this was truly the last chapter of life as she knew it with my Dad.
However, when asked, my Mom didn’t feel the same sadness. She was (and still is) looking forward to starting a new chapter in her life because she was ready for the change.
I, on the other hand, was not.
I had projected all this sadness on what my mom must be feeling, but instead, I was the one experiencing the grief. I was feeling all the feels about this decision and I needed to figure out why that was. What I came to realize was that by my mom closing this part of her life, the final chapter of my Dad’s story was closing as well. The last phase of their life together. The remaining piece of the man I knew as my Dad.
There I was, right back in the mourning of my Dad’s death. Coming to grips with the fact that my last great memory of him was in Arizona. In his home, sitting outside by the pool, with that gorgeous mountain view he proudly bragged about. Flashing back to memories of how much he loved life out there, and how he inspired me to find that “happy place.” Here I am, nine years after his passing, and I can’t help but wonder: do we ever stop grieving our beloveds who pass before us? I believe that when someone dies, especially a parent, we always have a vacancy in our lives that they once occupied. Whereas we carry on without them, the gorgeous view we once shared changes. We find a new view that presents itself. It might not be as special, or breathtaking, or familiar, but we accept it for what it is and find new things to love about it. Because, well, that’s what it means to move on. The memories remain, but our view continues to change.
As my Mom closes the door of their Scottsdale home for the last time, today concludes the story of a man who lived the last twenty-five years of his life on his terms, with a magnificent view that reminded him (and me) to never settle for anything less than “the good life.”
Janis Gaudelli is The Founder of The Daily Feels. She started this passion project to reveal the magic behind storytelling, and how truth-based narratives bring people together in the most heart-warming of ways. Fascinated by soul, depth, intellect, raw truths and rebellion with a cause. Often captivated by the awe of nature: star gazing, moon manifesting, sunset chasing, waves crashing, crickets singing. Fiercely curious about the inner-workings of the human psyche… she professionally studies human behavior for a living. Forever proud and grateful for being a mom to the force that fuels her life: her 7-year-old son, and greatest professor, Kellan.