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Meet Claire Hecht… a year ago this week she and her family were out to celebrate the passing of her last actuarial exam. Her sister, Jessica, recalls this as the last “normal” family dinner before their dad, Hal, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Nearly eight months later Hal lost his battle. Hal was one of a kind… he was funny, smart, and a family man who knew how to appreciate the very best that life had to offer. His greatest joy was his family… today we share the first piece of his family’s story through this interview with Claire, his youngest daughter.
Claire playing at the beach with her dad
1. What is a favorite memory you have with your dad?
Hmm, there are so many! I guess one of them would have to be him singing “High Hopes” to me — starting from when I was little during bath time, up to recent years when he would sing it over the phone. After his death I found an email he saved from 2004 (when I was a sophomore in college) in which I thanked him for singing “High Hopes” to me over the phone and told him how much better it made me feel. It was a frequent occurrence and always did the trick!
2. What has been helpful to you in dealing with your grief after your dad passed away?
Talking about it… mostly with my mom and sisters. Knowing that what I am feeling is not only valid, but an important part of the grieving process — so letting myself feel certain ways instead of trying to hide it . Thinking about my dad, in terms of both the past (all of the happy memories) and the future (the fact that he would WANT me to be happy).
Claire with her mom, dad, and sisters, Jessica + Carrie
3. What wasn’t helpful?
Thinking about the “what could have beens”… Most people twice my age still have their fathers and mine could have lived that long. My dad could have walked me down the aisle at my wedding; he could have met my kids; he could have been here this holiday, etc. I think it’s natural to think about these things and I definitely don’t think they can be completely avoided, but I also think it’s important not to let yourself dwell on the “what ifs” because those cannot be. What happened, happened… and I now try to focus on learning to live with it and being happy despite it.
4. Is there something that when you see or hear it reminds you of him?
I could go on and on… poker, show tunes, plaid button up short sleeve shirts, washing dishes, Sinatra, tan Honda CRVs, Trident gum, McDonald’s coffee, baldness/mustaches, our pool, Raybans, gin martinis, OCD…
5. What do you do to honor his memory?
My sister and I organized a team to participate in a 5k benefitting the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) and raised over $23,000. We are also involved in the PanCAN Houston Affiliate, and I try to raise awareness of pancreatic cancer through various other ways such as posting information on my Facebook page and wearing purple, etc. My family is also working on starting an endowment fund in his name at MD Anderson Cancer Center that will go towards pancreatic cancer research projects. I also made a memory box with some of his belongings (poker membership cards, raybans, letters between us, etc) and continue to share stories about him with my family and friends.
Claire + Jessica at the PanCAN 5K
6. What do you think he would be most proud of now?
I think he would be proud of our efforts and the outcome of PurpleStride (the 5k mentioned above). I think he would also be proud of how well we take care of each other (my sisters, mom and I), and the moments of great happiness that we have experienced since his death.
7. What advice do you have for someone dealing with the loss of a loved one?
Talk about it — with a family member, friend, therapist, whoever. If you feel particularly alone, find a bereavement support group in your area and take comfort in the fact that others are experiencing similar situations. Lastly, trust that things will get better — even if it seems impossible to believe at the time, have faith that you will not only survive, but you will find happiness and meaning to life again.
Claire dancing with her dad at Jessica’s wedding
Thank you, Claire for sharing your story with us. Check back here for her sister Jessica’s story and more details about their fundraising efforts for PanCAN.