For the majority of my adolescent life, I lived with an immense secret: I had a parent who was an alcoholic.
And then one afternoon in August 2011, I got the call that no child should ever receive: my father had suffered a stroke and was in the I.C.U. on life support. The alcohol abuse had damaged his organs beyond repair, and those machines were the only thing keeping him alive.
I was 23 years old, and possessed medical power-of-attorney over a 57-year-old man who barely resembled the father I once knew and loved so very much. I was fresh out of college, with my first big-girl job, and had just begun navigating “the real world.” But there I was, faced with the hardest decision I’d ever been up against: should I let my father live, or die?
You can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like to watch someone you love suffer during their final days of life, unless you’ve personally been there. And when the power to take away a life lies in your hands, it’s utterly terrifying.
And yet, I somehow found the strength to make that decision; I chose to end my father’s life. And to this day, I truly believe that was the best decision I could have made for him.
Immediately following his death, I took a very brief vacation from work – I was a newspaper reporter at the time – and when I returned, I went right back to the office and focused all of my energy on my job. I tried to remember the person my dad was before his addiction took over, and each day, I reminded myself that he would have wanted to see me succeed. He wouldn’t have wanted his mistakes to negatively impact my life, or the career I’d worked so hard to land.
Yes, I was devastated that I’d just lost a parent. Yes, I felt like my world was falling apart. And some days, I’d retreat to the bathroom stall at work and cry hysterically. But I never let on to the pain I was enduring. Because in the newspaper world where tight deadlines, tough decisions and intense pressure rule, sadly, there is no room for overwhelming grief. You need to do your job, and you need to do it well. And that’s exactly what I did.
A year later, I was rewarded with a promotion: I became the editor of my hometown newspaper. Every day, I worked harder than I’d ever worked in my entire life just to prove I deserved the position. I barely slept, skipped more meals than I care to admit and did everything in my power to make that newspaper better than it was the day before.
The lesson here is to try your best not to let your personal life impact your professional life. Because in this cutthroat job market, there is always someone smarter and more dedicated than you who is willing to work harder and longer than you are. No matter what’s going on in your life, try and keep your shit together.
Today, at 27 years old, I am far stronger and more mature than I was back then, and it’s largely due to the fact that I lost a parent far earlier than I should have. Because losing a parent puts everything in perspective. Suddenly, you realize that no one owes you anything, and that life is much crueler than we’re taught growing up. It becomes clear that if you want something, you’ve got to give it absolutely everything you have.
And while I’ve since left the journalism field, my job is still pretty damn demanding. I still get overwhelmed and stressed out, and have that feeling of wanting to give up on the end goal. But whenever I feel like chasing my dreams isn’t worth it, I remember that feeling I had right after my dad died, and how badly I wanted to quit my job and succumb to the depression that engulfed me. I remember how easy it would have been to give up, but instead, I forged ahead, and came out a better person. If losing a parent didn’t force me to fold back then, nothing can.