I remember getting the phone call from my stepmom this past June 30th that my dad was not feeling too well prior to their leaving for a ten-day vacation to Marco Island, Florida. They discharged him at three in the morning and explained that he should come back for more tests after his vacation. Exactly three weeks later, I held his hand as he passed away at 3:54 am in a hospice facility in Cape Coral, Florida, which I truly believe was staffed by angels. As happens at times, we did not receive the actual diagnosis until 36 hours prior to that last moment.
Until that week, we felt that whatever the issue was, that he would come home and beat it, seeing how he was the strongest man that I have ever met. Until that week, it was business as usual for us, having a last-minute weekend getaway planned for my wife and me at the beginning of August, and even having scored some tickets to some of the DIS GKTW events for their 20th-anniversary celebration. We had booked what I thought was the perfect DVC split-stay of the hustle and bustle of Bay Lake Tower, complimented by a relaxing two-night stay at Saratoga Springs to enjoy all that Disney Springs has to offer. Then, my world was turned upside, with my only immediate thoughts being taking care of his final wishes and getting my stepmom and 16-year-old brother home after this nightmare.
It wasn’t until the week that we were set to leave that we decided to even go on this trip. As most would understand, it was an agonizing decision. After all, how could I possibly go on a vacation to a spot that has given my family and me so much joy when I should be mourning. My main thought was that I couldn’t shake was that I should be grieving at home, but a voice somewhere in my head told me to go, which we did. It is the same voice that I had heard in the first 44 years of my life when I did not know which road in life to take.
As cliche as it sounds, as soon as we landed, I felt my sadness lift just a bit. As timing would have it, the first two days of the trip were spent at Bay Lake Tower with a pretty full schedule of events to attend, where we met some truly magical people, both cast members, and non-cast members alike. We dined at restaurants for the first time (I still am not sure what was better at the Brown Derby, the classically delightful food or the sweetness of our amazing server), attended events at we had never done before at some of my favorite places (Baseline Tap-house and Top of the World Lounge), and were introduced to some pretty amazing people that I will always appreciate. Within the first hour of arriving at our hotel, I was even fortunate enough to meet DVC Fan’s own Pete Werner, whom knowing about my father, took time from what I am sure was an extremely hectic week to offer sincere and thoughtful condolences, something that I will always sincerely appreciate.
Our second day began with a one of a kind breakfast at the aforementioned Top of the World Lounge, where we met with some equally magical people. After spending the morning there, taking a relaxing boat ride for lunch at Wilderness Lodge, and an afternoon simply strolling through the Magic Kingdom, I could feel my soul being refreshed just ever so much. While grief was a main player in my story, the Disney Magic was assisting me in battling through my grief. My painful memories of those last two days with my dad began to lighten with memories of happier times.
It has admittedly been a struggle for the last seven months, with my grief getting the best of me at times. I have found it difficult to utilize the outlet of writing, which has become a passionate outlet, difficult to think about the past good times with my dad, and difficult to imagine the days moving forward. But during this, I keep thinking back to that 4-day trip, the kindness that I encountered, the magic of Main Street, the amazing culinary delight of Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival, and the peacefulness and simplicity of enjoying a 7 am coffee from a DVC resort balcony. With grief, even every day can be a challenge, but by keeping focused on the things that bring us joy and light, only then can we lessen that shroud of darkness. That one long weekend in Walt Disney World did this for me. If you happen to be going through the same pains, my advice is to seek out that light, because that darkness does stare back.
If there is anyone out there that has been struck by grief in this way, please always know that you are not alone, and there are those of us that have both been through it and are there if you need a sounding board, including the stranger that is authoring this blog. Grieving is one of those things that should never be done alone.