When Death Tests Our Dreams

Post by Sharon 

When I was 16, my father died quite suddenly. My 21-year-old brother was beside himself. I heard Scott in the stables, pounding away at boards with nails. 

I didn't ask. 

My family tended to retreat into their own islands when things were upsetting. I learned at a young age to just work it through my mind and body until I was wrung out and ready to breathe again.

But, Scott continued to pound away, no questions asked. 

One day, he emerged from the stables to place a boat on the swimming pool. It was perhaps 8 or 10 feet long and sturdy. He had named it some Norse name that escapes me now. But between Thor Heyerdahl's Kon Tiki and Jacques Cousteau's weekly show, my brother always escaped to water, whether it was swimming, boating, or scuba diving.

Suddenly, his construction and his efforts made sense.  It wasn't the boat as much as what it represented. Dad had died young at 59. Some dreams were not completed. Scott was not going to let that happen to him. 

When we were kids, a neighbor at our summer home lived on the water and he spent every year building a boat. 

My brother would sit and listen to him explain boat construction while the man's pet crow sat on his shoulder. Scott eagerly absorbed the knowledge while envisioning the boat christening. He asked questions about technique and design and go home and sketch up his own designs. 

The man passed away, never actually launching the dream boat. It sat in his garage for years until his family decided to take it to the landfill. 

Our father was in WWII in the Pacific Asiatic fleet and our next door neighbor at the summer home was a ship's captain. Their experiences and stories changed the course of my brother's dreams. The open ocean, riding asail atop of it, mastering the vessel and charging into mysteries were the stuff of his dreams. 

Between clamming and crabbing and swimming in the Chesapeake Bay, Scott helped dad work on our cabin cruiser. Dad filled him with stories of his exploits in the Navy and the open ocean. The captain would take us to an abandoned lighthouse and fill our ears with his near-misses captaining ships for rich clients. 

When I was in fifth grade, dad announced he was buying a yacht and taking us kids out of school to sail us around the world for a year.

Mother paced the floor and wrung her hands. She didn't swim.

We kids eagerly went with dad shopping around for our new sailing home. 

Ultimately, mom won out. Teaching 5 kids on a small boat their school lessons without being able to dispatch us to run around the property like she had all these years, was unthinkable.

Still, the sailing bug was in our minds and especially Scott, who began rafting on the Shenandoah as an adolescent, diving on the public pool's diving team as a teen, and scuba diving as a young adult. He was in love with the ocean and wanted to be an oceanographer.

When I was in high school and Scott was in college, life had us resituating from Fairfax, Virginia to Scottsdale, Arizona because of dad's heart condition. One day, while working together on the addition to the house, dad had a fatal heart attack.

A week after dad's death, I was watching the launch of Scott's viking ship on the swimming pool. His expression showed exhaustion and skepticism. He studied the boat as the rigged vessel began to sink in the miserable small swimming pool.  

I had to turn away from the symbolism and his utter resolve on his face to mourn the dream, as well.

Deciding his dreams were not to be. Scott turned to the bottle. By the age of 43 he died of cirrhosis. 

Instead of chasing that dream, he let his grief for father become the grief of his dreams. The overwhelming hopelessness led to self medication. He was too numb to know or even care about the loss of dad or the abandoning of his dreams.

There are two directions we can go with loss. 

HOPELESS: Some folks won't celebrate Christmas because mother loved it so much and she's now gone. The season holds no excitement. But, what is missing in the equation is that mother instilled a love of the holiday. There would be no greater way to honor her than to celebrate full force and feel the excitement she felt. She spent a lifetime making you fall in love with it. 

DETERMINED: When my father died, the message to me was that he wouldn't be there to kick me in the pants, take me to dance rehearsels, watch me twirl a flag on the football field, or listen to me read play scripts. 

Whatever I wanted out of my life, whatever were my dreams, I had to take on his roles as both initiator and cheerleader. 

I had to sign up, go to the activity, and see it through. Dad saw potential in me. It was up to me to see it too. 

I started into modeling and pageants that I had long talked about and it made me smile to think how proud dad would be. 

Dad always wanted to publish a book. I eventually published two dozen. Dad wanted to write a script. My scripts are being made into television show episodes. He loved to public speak and help people and that has been a lifelong passion and commitment of mine. 

As the baby of the family, my older siblings taught me much about how to live life and even how not to live life. That day Scott's boat sank, I knew his light went out with dad's. 

For me, dad's last breath blew on the light of my dreams and made it ignite. 

And this is how death tests at our dreams. It can be a sinking point or a launching point. And that depends on our ability to keep the dreams alive, for our loved one, and for our very soul. 

Dreams that were yours are now "ours." 

Each year, I like to update my dad in my own way.  It's been 41 years but fathers are timeless and irreplaceable. 

"Dear dad, this year I (published a book, took a trip, was on a podcast, helped a friend, signed a deal, learned a new subject, prayed daily, gave a speech, wrote a script)...lived OUR dream for me." 

And as I now represent my mother, father, sister and brother in Heaven, my dreams are even more precious to fulfill as they didn't get to complete theirs. All these souls rooting for me need me to continue the team's dream for me. 

After all, if they take the quarterback off the field during the game, the players don't exit the field. They play twice as hard for their injured teammate.


  1. I just Love this Sharon. So inspirational and true. We must go on for the team.


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