Five Lessons I Learned from my Father’s Death

“It is not so much about what life hands you, but what you do with what you get.”

– Idowu Koyenikan

lego grave, lego grief, lego funeralIn my introductory post, I shared that the origins of this blog started with my father’s death. I thought it appropriate that my follow-up post be about the lessons I learned from his passing.

I don’t want to give you the impression that this was an easy process. It wasn’t easy at all. It was painful and it took me many many years before I was able to find anything resembling a silver lining from this tragedy.

However, now nearly twenty years later I’m able to reflect back and see how his death influenced my growth and shaped my outlook. Here are just a few of the ways I was able to take this tragedy and make my life better from it.


Be grateful for who you have because you don’t know when they will be gone. This has helped me most in my relationship with my kids. My father only got 19 years with me. If I consider that possibility with my own kids it makes me appreciate every moment with them much more (even when they are driving me crazy).

I think this is true with everything that life has to offer. When you allow the idea of losing something into your experience, you naturally become much more appreciative for what you have. Living with the concept of loss has turned me into a more grateful person.

Don’t Focus on the Small Stuff

Every person and every relationship has it’s fair share of irritants. However, those aren’t the things you remember when they’re gone. So why focus on them when they’re right in front of you?

My father died as I was just coming out of my angsty teenage years, which means I’d spent the last years of his life, focusing on the small irritants that existed within him. Those things elude me now, but what endures are the things about my dad that I miss.

This lesson has been most impactful in my marriage. As perfect as my wife is, there may be one or two minor character flaws that could get under my skin if I allowed them to. My life and marriage are so much better when I instead focus on the thousands of things that are great about her, rather than the one or two irritants.

Choose the Life You Want – Live in the Now

Don’t allow life to just happen. Be proactive about shaping your life around what you want it to look like. If you only had 10 or 20 years left to live what would you do differently? Why aren’t you doing that now?

These are the questions that I think about now. I don’t wait to live my life for some distant time in the future. I structure my life to create the future I want as soon as possible, ensuring that the life I’m living today is the life I want.

Focus on What’s Most Important

In many ways my father lived a great life. He traveled the world and had experiences that the rest of us only dream of. After leaving his job he talked more about the loneliness of living out of hotel rooms and how hollow many of those experiences were because he couldn’t share them with his family.

This helped me structure my life not just around what I want to do, but who I want to do it with. My parents instilled in me a love of traveling, and I intend to see as much of the world as I can. But, I don’t just want to check things off a list; I want to have experiences with those that I love. I’d happily trade seeing 10 things from my list if it meant I could see one with my loved ones.

Prioritizing the things that are most important to me over the things that are just important has allowed me to get more out of my experiences.

You Always Have a Choice

You won’t always be able to choose what happens in your life, but you will always have a choice about what you do with what happens. This list is a perfect reflection of that. I didn’t choose for my father to die, but I did choose how I responded to his death.

Choosing to find ways to take this tragedy and make my life better as a result has not only made me a better version of myself, but has also helped me grieve his loss. I could have very easily taken this experience and become bitter or see myself as a victim of it, but that’s not who I am.

Actively choosing your response to life’s events will set you on a path to improving your life. You get to make this choice.


  1. Great lessons here, MSF. I’m sorry you had to learn them the hard way, but you’ve identified some great ideals to live by.


  2. Thanks for sharing this. It’s terribly personal. My dad died when I was 17, and a Senior in high school. It upsets me so much you won’t even find it on the “about” page on my blog. I had such a great respect for him that thinking about it seems more like PTSD than just ignoring it.

    The most important lesson I learned was self reliance and self motivation. My mom was dirt poor before and after his death, and I always felt like my back was against the wall. This made me very frugal and I, at times, worked harder than others with a stronger focus to get to where I am today.

    I bike commute to work just to stay healthy. Although my dad smoked and managed to muster to the age of 57, I’d like to live a much longer life than that so my kids CAN know me when they are adults. So far, so good.

    1. Thanks for reading and sharing your own history with grief. I’m sorry to hear about your father’s passing. It sounds like you learned some valuable lessons as well. Ideally we both could have learned these lessons another way, but life isn’t always ideal. It sounds like you are taking some great steps to lead a healthy life both physically and financially. Keep up the good work!

  3. I also find it “harder” to let the small things go with my loved ones, because they are a “captive” audience. I am trying to be so much more mindful and really, we should treat our loved ones even better.

    My parents are still with me, but my mom has Alzheimer’s. Will actually be seeing her next week, but it has been over a year and there is a high probability of her not remembering me.

    My dad is a big time hoarder and for a while the family wanted me to help “fix” him. I finally said no. I wasn’t going to spend whatever time we had left, arguing about the house. He has to want to make changes. Forcing them on him won’t do any good.

    Sorry to hear about your father. I’m glad that you have, over time, been able to recognize some positives out of the tragedy.

    I love your logo.
    cd :O)

    1. Thanks for the comments, I’m glad you found some value in this post. Sorry to hear about your mom. Alzheimer’s is a nasty disease. It’s heart breaking for the afflicted individual and heartbreaking for the family as well. I hope you visit goes well with your mom and no matter what her mental state, you find a way to appreciate your time with her.

      I think you’re right on with your dad. “Those convinced against their will are of the same opinion still.” Enjoy the time you have with him!

  4. Thanks for sharing. I also lost my dad at age 17 and my mom at age 24. Now that I am in my “middle age,” I really envy those who can ask their parents even simple questions about parenting and my youth. I recall someone telling me once that when someone dies, it’s like a library burned down. Part of why I blog is to record my best thinking for my kids. I wish I had something like that from my dad. Even if no one else ever reads it, that’s one valuable result.

    1. I’m so sorry to hear about your parents. I feel very fortunate that my mom is still with us. I love that library line, it is so true.

      I blog for exactly the same reason. It’s great to be able to live in an age where we have this kind of platform to record our musings for our kids. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Thank you so much for sharing. These are great lessons to learn and share with others. I’m just sorry about the circumstances that you had to learn them under. My dad passed away when I was very young (5). It isn’t something I talk about too much. But over the last few years, all of these points have become under focus and much more important to me. I’ve also lost grandparents over the years, as most people have. You realize in hindsight how precious each moment with someone is and how you should make the most of all your interactions with that individual. Make sure you enjoy the moments for what they are and don’t focus on finding the negative or the small things that will make an interaction miserable. Embrace the differences and enjoy all of the moments you have together.


    1. Thanks Bert. I’m really glad this post resonated and I’m very sorry to hear about your loss. At some point in our life, we are all forced to face challenging circumstances. Learning these lessons from my father’s death still seems like one of the best ways to honor him. I appreciate you taking the time to comment and sharing your own experience.

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