By Adele Di Paola
Ralph Di Paola was my father and my hero. My admiration for him knows no bounds. I can genuinely say that during my lifetime he wore many hats with ease. He was my best friend, my guide, my protector, my biggest champion, my financial advisor, my therapist… but most importantly, he was the kindest, gentlest, and most selfless human being I’ve ever had the honour of knowing. He was an incredible husband to my mother, and the best dad to his two children. I have always been incredibly proud to be his daughter.
In July of 2021, unbeknownst to me, he was diagnosed with stage 1-2 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I was newly pregnant at the time, so my dad decided that it would be best to keep the diagnosis from me, to avoid negatively impacting my overall health and potentially causing me to miscarry. At the time he chose to only share his diagnosis with my mother and brother. It goes without saying that he knew the news would absolutely devastate me. So, he suffered silently, attending his biweekly treatment, with the belief that he would be in the clear by the time his first grandchild was born, and he would finally be able to open up to me about his experience. I cannot fathom how difficult it must have been to keep such a big secret from me, as we spoke daily and saw each other several times each week.
He managed to somehow convince me that he had a new affection for baseball caps, never wanting to take his off, so that I wouldn’t notice his hair loss. Unfortunately, despite his best efforts, I discovered the news of his diagnosis in October 2022. It felt as though my heart had shattered into a million pieces. It took some time for me to process what this meant for our family. Nevertheless, we all remained positive because his oncologist assured us that he would be cured, as this was a curable cancer. Considering this, we continued to focus on the excitement surrounding the anticipated arrival of our new little family member in a few short months.
On January 10, 2022, my world changed forever. My father was placed on a ventilator and would never wake up again. However, much like his initial cancer diagnosis, I had absolutely no idea that this had happened. I was due to give birth at any moment, and again, for fear of the well being of both me and my baby, my family sought to protect me from the impact of this shocking information. On January 13, 2022, blissfully ignorant to what was going on with my dad, I gave birth to a beautiful and healthy baby girl. My heart had never been so full of love, gratitude, and pure bliss. My husband had been communicating with my mom during my labour and immediately following the birth, so I knew that my family had been made aware of the exciting news of her safe arrival.
As soon as I had the opportunity to, I text a photo of my sweet daughter to my dad. I knew that he would be over the moon! However, to my surprise, I did not receive a response. I was told that he did not have his cell phone with him, in hospital, where he was being treated for pneumonia. Again, I understand that the truth about my dad’s health was being kept from me out of love and concern for my incredibly fragile state. Nevertheless, as the days passed, my intuition kicked in. It just did not make sense to me that I had had no contact with my dad since the birth of my child. It was unfathomable and inconsistent with our relationship.
At this point, I pleaded with my family to tell me the truth about what had been going on. My mom finally obliged. She sat me down and explained to me that my dad had been intubated because of breathing complications and had been in a medically induced coma since January 10. She explained that at first, it was thought to be pneumonia and that is what he was being treated for. But it was later discovered that it was not the result of pneumonia. Instead, it was the result of Bleomycin-induced lung toxicity caused by a chemotherapy drug he was receiving to treat his Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Unfortunately, the discovery came only after he had been placed on the ventilator. It was not long after learning of my dad’s intubation, that my mom received a call from the hospital recommending that she plan for the family to attend to be by my father’s side, as the damage to his lungs appeared too vast to be reversed and ultimately, they believed he would pass at any moment. Despite this bleak prognosis, my dad continued to fight for his life for another 12 days.
His soul left this earth on February 9, 2022. He was only 57 years old. On that day, he took a piece of me with him.
Losing my dad has been the single most difficult experience of my entire life. I felt as though life as I knew it had been ripped away, without so much as a warning. How could I possibly continue to live in his absence? It seemed like such an impossible concept. How could I ever be a good mother to my child, without my dad’s sound advice? I never made any decisions in life, big or small, without first consulting him — because he always knew the right thing to do. I truly just could not imagine surviving in a world without my protector, my person.
Yet, to my surprise — here I am, 16 months later, still standing, still breathing, still living.
Grieving the death of my father has caused me to learn some very valuable life lessons:
- I’ve learned that things that once mattered, now seem far less significant in the wake of my gargantuan loss. I’ve learned that there is absolutely no benefit to ‘sweating the small stuff.’ In the grand scheme of things, I remind myself that trivial matters are just that — trivial. They will likely have no significant impact on my life and therefore are not worth the worry.
- I’ve learned to trust myself, completely and wholly. I’ve come to learn that I can in fact make decisions (big and small) in the absence of my father’s advice, because I am a product of his parenting. He has raised me to be everything that I am.
- I’ve learned that being a loving and ever-present parent leaves a lifelong impact on a child and I will strive to be an amazing parent to my daughter, as my dad was to me.
- I’ve learned that writing is therapeutic and a great outlet for emotional reflection and healing.
- I’ve learned that therapy is helpful and is not something to be feared or frowned upon.
- I’ve learned that those who have experienced suffering and loss in their lives, can more easily empathize with others facing similar hardships. I have made it a goal of mine to assist others, as best as I can, in their efforts to navigate grief and loss.
- I’ve learned that grief and gratitude can co-exist. I will forever grieve the loss of my beloved father; however, I am truly grateful for the years we spent together.
- I’ve learned that life is precious, and that I should spend as much time as I can with those that I love — because every moment on this earth is a gift.
- Grief can be overwhelming and all-consuming. Sometimes I just have to breathe, be gentle with myself and put one foot in front of the other.
- I will never ‘get over’ the loss of my dad. Though my grief may evolve and change its shape as time goes on, it has become a part of the fabric of my existence — both who I am now and who I will become.
For more information about Adele, you can check out her website.
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