On September 3, 2004, following a two-year battle, my father, John Robert Gonzalez, succumbed to cancer.
The man that lay in that hospice bed those final days was, physically, just a shell of the man I grew up admiring. He would drift in and out of consciousness, unable to speak, until he finally laid his head back and took his last breath. With that he was gone.
With that, I was devastated.
I’d been to funerals before. I’d had close friends lose their parents. I’d lost very close friends myself at such an early age. Still, there is something surreal about having a parent pass away. It was a ton of bricks falling on me. It was having to face the reality this man, a man who was a constant in my life, would never again be there for me. Whenever I couldn’t figure out how to do something around the house, I’d give him a call. Whenever there was a big play in the Dolphins’ game, I’d give him a call. Every Sunday afternoon, I’d give him a call. Now there was no one for me to call ever again. Sad and surreal and so hard for me to come to terms with.
There was one aspect of my father’s passing, however, that did bring me peace.
In the final weeks of August 2004, I read Mitch Albom’s book “The Five People You Meet in Heaven.” It changed my life. I say that because it changed my ideas and perceptions about the afterlife and what happens in heaven. The book allowed me to think of a place we visit once we die, a place that summarizes and makes complete the life we lived on earth. It opened my eyes to the idea that dying is something we can look forward to because of the wonderful experience that follows our passing.
The story, and the manner in which it is so beautifully told, allowed me to more quickly find acceptance of the fact my father was dead. Rather than consume my thoughts with things I’d never be able to do with him again, I thought instead of who his five people are and what interactions he was having with them in the great beyond. It was almost a joyous feeling to think he was reunited with his mother, a spectacular woman whom he loved so very much, and the conversations they would share. It was fascinating in a sad but beautiful way. It was, for me, a source of strength at a time of loss.
Writing is a powerful medium, and the art of storytelling can be a very influential vehicle. It’s still amazing to me, as well as inspiring, that someone can put words to paper and, as a result, positively impact the lives of millions of strangers. That is what Mitch Albom has done with his books. He is a role model for me as an author, as a sports writer, and as a person; and I aspire so much to model my craft after his.
I hope and pray that I will one day write something that will be a positive influence on someone else’s life. I do this not for any sense of fame, gratitude, or acknowledgement, but rather because of my belief that doing so would make my father proud. After all, it will give us something to talk about when it’s our time to reunite in heaven.
To read the eulogy I wrote for my father, please click here.