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Jessica's Story

January 19, 2011
Kate's Club
Jessica's Story
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When Jessica’s dad, Hal, was battling cancer a  friend of her sister wrote a letter with this quote. If you read her sister Claire’s story last week and as you read Jessica’s story now, it will be clear that is exactly the way that Hal loved.

This is what life is all about… Loving to where you leave an imprint so strongly on someone that time cannot erase it.

Hal holding Jessica as an infant

1.          What is a favorite memory you have with your dad?

It’s hard to choose one favorite memory… really whenever I made my dad proud or whenever I made him laugh were my favorite moments.  

I loved how much my dad practiced for the Spartanaires (high school drill team) father-daughter dance.  Even though the point is that it’s just funny to see a bunch of middle aged men up on stage trying to dance, my dad took it so seriously and wanted to do his best – He was such a good dad like that.  

I talked to him during some of the hardest times in my life and he would always make me feel better.  I’ll never forget when I was going through depression in early college, and my dad hugged me and promised me that everything was going to get better.  Even though I couldn’t see it at the time, I decided to believe him, and sure enough, it wasn’t too long before things did get better.  This is something that I always keep with me, because it helps me to remember that things will get better whenever I’m feeling down these days.

Jessica dancing with her dad at the Sweet 16 dance

2.          What has been helpful to you in dealing with your grief after your dad passed away?

My sister has helped more than anything because we have similar feelings, dreams, waves of emotion, etc. and can talk about it all with without reservation.  

I read a book – When Someone You Love Dies – it was helpful for me in providing a frame of reference for what I was going through and understanding that it was normal and justified.

One thing that was hard was figuring out how to go back to a normal life.  I felt like I wasn’t the same person, but sometimes I would try to remember what I was like before my dad was sick, like what about me is really so different, if anything.  Going back to work was hard.  It was good to be back, but after a few weeks I started feeling more sad. So it became hard for me to function at work.  However, by that point it felt like everyone expected me to have gotten through my grief.  

In general though, it’s like people’s expectations are not lined up with what you actually go through.  It went in waves for me – first I was fine and somewhat relieved for the sickness to be over. Then about two months later I got really sad and it only got worse for a couple months. Finally I’ve been feeling better this last month.

Jessica playing with her dad and sister Claire

3.          What wasn’t helpful?

There wasn’t any particular thing I did that I think was detrimental in the grief process, but I guess the main thing that wasn’t helpful was making too many goals and trying to get back to normal too quickly.  I felt like I didn’t want to stay unhappy and unmotivated, so I would make goals that were unrealistic for me at the time (for example, next week I’m going to wake up early, concentrate at work all week, go to the gym, cook, see friends, and be happy).  Then I’d feel disappointed when I couldn’t live up to those goals.  

4.          Is there something that when you see or hear it reminds you of him?

Some things that make me think of him are when I see a tan Honda CRV, whenever I have problems with my car (which is a lot!) and wish he could be there to fix them, buying a house and wishing I could tell him about it, my diamond necklace that was lost for 2 years and I found right after he died, and my mom.

I also remember him the last night before he died whenever I walk past a certain spot in my parents’ house.  That is a not a good memory, and while I don’t think I want to forget completely, I’m hoping it will fade in time.

Hal with his three daughters: Jessica, Claire, + Carrie

5.          What do you do to honor his memory?

I talk about my dad a lot and tell stories.  What I most want to do is be a person and live my life in a way that would make him proud.  I feel like that is the best way I can honor him.

Additionally, I volunteer, participate, and fundraise in PanCAN meetings and events.  My mom, sisters, and I are starting an endowment fund at MD Anderson in his name.

6.          What do you think he would be most proud of now?

I think that he would be proud of the way we are helping my mom and supporting each other.  That has been a hard part that I wasn’t prepared for.  Family dynamics change and my mom needs different things from me now, just like I need different things from her.  

Jessica with Claire + her parents at her 2009 wedding

7.          What advice do you have for someone dealing with the loss of a loved one?

Don’t expect to get through your grief too quickly.  There is not a certain way that you are supposed to go through grief – people will experience it differently and don’t feel like you “should” be feeling a certain way.

Talk to people about your feelings – whether it’s family, friends, or even a therapist or support group.

At work or school or other obligations, I think communication is key.  Let people know what you’re going through.Many thanks to Jessica for sharing her story. If you would like to share your story, contact us.

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