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How to Thrive After Losing My Dad Forever

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I am sitting on a plane heading back to Illinois from Washington, D.C., where I attended the 2016 CUNA Government Affairs Conference known as GAC. CUNA stands for Credit Union National Association and it is the largest national trade association in the U.S. serving America's credit unions. Let me tell you, this is quite the conference. It seems like everyone in the world is there and the hotels around the Conference Center are booked with people who come in from near and far, and I mean real far, to attend. There are thousands of people in attendance. The Master of Ceremonies, Paul Berry, is a former award winning producer, reporter and news anchor and nationally syndicated radio host. With his sharp wit and funny demeanor, he alone is worth coming to see, but there is much, much more to this event. There are all kinds of high-profile speakers at the GAC, including this year's keynote speaker, Ted Koppel, who did not disappoint. He had the whole place doing a sing-along about the current presidential race to a song that he made up himself.

However, the fact that I was able to sing along and keep my composure was nothing short of a miracle. You see, this was my second year at the GAC and last year's visit there marked the beginning of a personal collision course, that has taken me a full year to recover from. Last year I attended the GAC on behalf of my employer, Alliant Credit Union. For those of you who don't know what the heck a credit union is (like myself a few years back), it is a not-for-profit member-owned financial institution that offers low loan rates, high interest on deposits, and low fees. They exist to serve their members rather than cater to shareholders. That, my friends, is the credit union difference, but I digress.

On my flight to DC for this year's GAC, I had a horrible bout of angst from the replaying in my mind of what happened on my last trip. On a Sunday last year, I was getting ready to go to the airport with a colleague bound for Washington DC. Our plan was to arrive in DC by late afternoon to start off the GAC experience with a big dinner sponsored by the Illinois Credit Union League. Two things were weighing heavy on my mind. First, I would have to miss my customary Sunday dinner at my parents' house, which was about 30 minutes away from my house. My parents were both so healthy and active, but at 75 years old, I was mindful of the fact that nobody was getting any younger. With a hectic lifestyle trying to balance activities for my three children and a full-time job, I found myself missing these Sunday dinners more and more. I hated to do it and this day was no exception. Secondly, my dad was usually the one to drive me to the airport whether I was traveling for business or pleasure. However, I often joke that at times, my dad was a bit of a crazy driver, and I noticed that full stops at stop signs were becoming more and more of a sporadic occurrence. Visions of my dad driving me as a young adult to my new apartment on the north side of Chicago popped in my head. The flat-bed truck we borrowed from who knows where was filled with all my furniture and belongings, and I'll never forget when a small dresser flew out of the truck as my dad made a crazy turn. With this fond memory in mind, I thought better of having my dad drive us to the airport for this DC trip. It was a decision I would regret forever.

Monday through Wednesday of the 2015 GAC featured an impressive array of speakers, from Tom Ridge, former head of the Department of Homeland Security, to former White House Press Secretary, Ari Fleischer, to various politicians and industry professionals. But, none of the speakers had as profound an influence on me as the keynote speaker, Arianna Huffington. Arianna spoke of her experience one day collapsing from over-exhaustion and waking up in her own pool of blood. She spoke of learning to put down her phone and reconsider the important things in life. This prompted her to write her book, Thrive, which analyzes the traditional notion of success as defined by money and power and sets forth the need for a third metric of success, that of personal fulfillment in the form of quality of relationships, family life, and personal well-being. At first I was thinking, what does this have to do with credit unions?? And then I realized... this has EVERYTHING to do with EVERYTHING. I don't know why, but I couldn't stop thinking about my parents, missing that family dinner, and not letting my dad drive us to the airport. After all, he wasn't always a crazy driver and he surely would have been on his best behavior with another person in the car. I was to return home on a Wednesday, and that following Sunday I already had another conflict, my daughter's cheer competition. I would attend that competition alone with my daughter, as my husband was busy taking our two boys to their activities, in keeping with our hectic lifestyle. Sitting here today, I could not even tell you what my boys' activities were that night, but at the time I guess we felt the kids' activities were critical enough to miss Sunday dinner with the parents/grandparents. But this weighed heavy on my mind, that I do remember, and I couldn't wait for that following Sunday, which would be about a week and a half away, when we would again get together. That darn Thrive was in my head now and I needed to get home and gather around the table.

I called my parents when I got home and told them all about the GAC, the speakers, the people I met, the things I learned. They were so excited for me, and proud, as they always were. My excitement was always their excitement, my success, their success. I told my dad I would have to miss dinner again on Sunday because of the kids' events, but that I would be there the following Sunday. We talked a couple times the following week. On Wednesday, I noticed my dad sounded tired and Sunday could not come soon enough. But, Sunday never came. My dad died suddenly the next day, on a Thursday, of a massive heart attack. I don't have a lot of experience with loved ones dying, but somehow when that phone rings, before even picking it up, something tells you it's not good. Well that phone rang Thursday morning. One ring, I knew it was my mom, second ring, the principles of Thrive were playing in my head, and then I answered. It was my mom and she said dad was in the hospital. She didn't tell me he was already gone, and I didn't ask. I just knew, but didn't want to ask because if I did and heard those words, it would then be official. I went to the hospital and saw him there on the bed. How can someone be there one minute, your whole life really, seemingly fine, and then gone forever the next minute? As he was lying there, I felt like his body was rising, rising, rising. I tried to grab him, but he kept floating upwards, just beyond my fingertip reach. He was gone and was never coming back. So many people know what that's like, whether they lost a parent, a child, a friend, or other loved one. I don't know how they all got through it because let me tell you, I did a horrible job of it.

My dad was a relatively simple person and had a hard time growing up. His grandparents immigrated to the United States from Greece and they had it rough trying to make it here. My dad's father died when he was just 9 years old, and he was left to fill the shoes as the man of the house to his sister and mother, who spoke no English. I remember him telling me that when he was a young man, jobs were relatively plentiful, and he got the best job he could to support his family. Over time, my dad had a variety of decent jobs but always regretted not doing more. So, when the time came to have children, I think my dad decided that he was going to guide his children the best he could, make sure they didn't make the same mistakes he did, and most of all, be the very best dad he could be. And he was. My dad was always there for me. When I was younger, I thought he was "there" too much. I think back to the time when I was standing in a long line at a bar back when I was in college. My parents were visiting earlier for "Parents' Day" but I thought they left hours earlier. But, there they were, walking across the street from where I was standing with all those college students, just taking it all in. I was so embarrassed at the time, but I would give anything now for him to be in my line again. I think back to all the times I got irritated because I was in the middle of something when my parents came over to my house unannounced because they were "in the area." Now I would do anything to have my dad pop on over once more.

My dad devoted his life to my mom, brother, and me, and he gave us the gift of never having to doubt just how much he loved us. I realize how important that is in life, to have felt that love and importance. For the days and months after this tragic event, I had a hard time just putting one foot in front of the other. With three kids, a husband, and other loved ones to consider though, I just had to trudge on as best I could. I now realize how much I took my dad for granted and wish, like so many others, that I could just turn back time, reprioritize my life, and find that time to spend together. I hope I made my dad proud. The third metric of success from Thrive now has ever-important meaning to me when it comes to those loved ones who are still with me. The question now, is how to keep on Thriving.

In loving memory of Anthony W. Dallianis, April 14, 1939 -- March 19, 2015
#bestdadever #CUDifference

Diane Hank is Senior Regulatory Counsel for Alliant Credit Union in Chicago, Illinois. She lives in the Chicagoland area with her husband and three children.