How does this happen?

Tonight my dad passed away. It was totally unexpected, and I’m still in shock. When I spoke to him last night, he seemed a little more tired than usual. This was the downward spiral that led to a trip to the emergency room, a plan for surgery, and then cardiac arrest. How does this even happen? Two weeks ago, I was in the nursing home celebrating his 73rd birthday with him, and now, I realize that this is the last birthday I will be celebrating with him.

My dad and I were never that close, but I loved him. Since he went into the nursing home a couple of years ago, I called him every day: usually at the same time every night. I was thinking about that when contemplating the Reading: Part 1 course that I start tomorrow. When could I call him instead? Would it be too late to phone once the course was over? Now I won’t have anyone to call, and this seems so very strange to type. 

Today’s heart-breaking experience has reminded me of something important: savour the small moments.

  • From the phone calls …
  • To the chorus of “happy birthday” at the nursing home …
  • To the newspapers to discuss together …
  • To the hug and kiss goodbye …
  • To the laughter with me and his friends from the nursing home …
  • To watching him lead a portion of the synagogue services …
  • To listening to his many discussions about bridge and Masters Points (a game that I still do not understand) …
  • To the many talks about sports (I think that I listened to these more than I contributed) to world events (that I could talk about more) …

It is these many moments that stick with me tonight.

Dad, I love you, and I miss you, and my heart really does ache this evening. It’s these moments that I know will be the special memories in the weeks, months, and years to come. So tonight everyone, hug your loved ones a little tighter. Give one extra kiss. Share a smile. Make a memory. For as I was reminded today, life is sometimes far too short and way too devastating.


53 thoughts on “How does this happen?

  1. Oh Aviva, I am so very saddened to hear about your dad. Losing a parent is tough no matter what our relationship with them has been. Please know that you are very much in my thoughts and prayers tonight and through the difficult days ahead. Warm hugs, jill

  2. My heart is breaking for you. My dad died 8 years ago and though his death was not sudden, it does not make it easier. I know that it may not seem like it, but you will use the memories you have of your dad to help you heal and find your new normal. Here is virtual hug and a prayer for you as you live through these difficult and seemingly impossible days.

  3. Miss Dunsiger!
    I am so sorry for your loss!
    My heart goes out for you!! Your sense of shock is very natural. I also felt it with my dad 11 years ago and my father-in-law last year. It is very surreal, in deed! I am certain that he felt your love through every phone call you shared with him!
    Please let me know if there is anything I can be of help!! We will be thinking of you!!

    • Thank you so much! I think that all of this love and support is exactly what I need right now. It definitely has been a shock, and I think will continue to feel that way for a little while to come. Thanks for reaching out and thanks for sharing your story. It means a lot!


  4. Dear Friend,
    I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your Father. You and your family will be in my thoughts and prayers in the days to follow. If you find random dimes know that it is a message from your Dad. Take and God Bless.

  5. Such a terrible shock for you, and even when prepared, it’s horrible to lose a parent. I know how this feels and send you my empathy. The shock will fade and a new reality will emerge, with the memories intact. Sending you hugs….

  6. Aviva i am so sorry to hear of your dad’s sudden passing. The suddenness of the event adds so many more layers to the emotions you are experiencing. My thoughts are with you as you go through the process ahead that follows any close family member’s passing. Please remember to take care of you too!

    • Thank you, Cathy, Doug, Jason, Chris, Pam, and Lisa! I feel so well-loved and supported during this difficult time. Thanks for being a part of this incredible support system and sharing your personal stories as well.


  7. I’m so sad to read about this, Aviva. Losing a family member is always a tough time in everyone’s life. I offer you my sympathies and hope for strength in these times.

  8. Aviva,

    Your heartfelt post is a beautiful reminder to be present, to care, to give and to connect even when barriers may exist. Your dad left with memories of you as caretaker, confidant, and devoted daughter. That was good for him to experience and for you to take foreward and remember. Thank you for sharing- I am sorry for your loss.


  9. Oh, sweet girl. I am feeling for you. I am struggling this week, as I often do this week, with my mixed feelings about my dad. He died September 17, 2004, and I’m still working through stuff. I really appreciated your list of small things to celebrate – that’s so the way to think about a life you shared. And for what it’s worth, it’s okay to be angry. Sending you all kinds of positive energy and co-regulation strategies.

  10. Oh Aviva 🙁 I’m terribly sorry to read this. Our sincere condolences. Our thoughts and strength go out to you. ❤️

    E’s Mom

  11. Aviva words cannot express how I am feeling right now, and what you must be going through. I just wanted you to know that you are in my thoughts and if there is anything at all that you may need, please do not hesitate to let me know. Liz

  12. Aviva, I’m so sorry for the loss of your dad 🙁 It is not easy to go through this, I will be thinking of you and your family now and in the year ahead. 💜

  13. Aviva, I just read this now … oh I’m so sorry to hear this news. You words and dedication towards your father are very kind. Charlie

  14. Dear Aviva. This is Judy and GUS . We are very saddened to learn of your loss and want to share a few Mark moments with you..
    we missed him on ROSH HASHANAH as he did not come down to Services. My friend went to see him and he felt very tired.
    We really enjoyed his birthday. It was a wonderful thing that you did and it made him very happy. After you left we enjoyed the cake. Us and the residents downstairs.. you could not have given him a better present.. He discussed at length his love for you and your sister. He was very appreciative of your visit and it put him in very good humor.
    Please contact us as we would like to know final arrangements for a man who with great difficulty and effort contributed soenormously to our services.

    • Thank you so much for your kind words! I’m going to post the information here about the services, but I will also email you directly. The funeral will take place on Monday at 1:00 pm at the Jewish Memorial Gardens in Ottawa.

      I know how much my dad loved you and his time at the service. It always made me so happy to see him there. Thank you for all of your love and support!


  15. Your father Mark will be missed very much and I feel a great void at the home. I live in the building
    next door and visited often at dinner when we talked and talked and talked!! You and your sister were very special to him and he was very proud of your accomplishments. Shabbat was the last time I saw your Dad; he was not feeling well in the past weeks and I went to check up on him. My father passed away four years ago in Israel and Mark reminded me so much of him, both brilliant minds.

    I wish you and your family long life and would really like to meet up when you have time.

    Will there be a service in Toronto?

    • Thank you so much for the comment and the kind words, Carolyn! I know that my dad spoke a lot about you, and it means a lot that he meant so much to you as well.

      Right now, the funeral is set to be in Ottawa on Monday, but once we’re back in the Toronto area, we’ll see about the possibilities for a service here. If we do anything, I will definitely let you know. Please know that you made a huge, positive impact on my dad!


  16. Your Father was a very special man possessing a unique soul.
    Almost from his arrival he led Cedarvale Minyan Shabbat morning services.
    A pretty remarkable feat in itself.

    The last Shabbat he led us was two weeks ago.
    It was Parsha Nitzavim.
    It was his Bar Mitzvah portion.
    He read the haph-Torah and then led the service with a strong voice, to the end.
    What a shock that he is gone less than two weeks later!

    Mark showed tremendous strength, in the face of his challenges, with great humour and humility.
    And he honoured us with his presence.
    We loved him and he will be missed.

    It’s a big loss for the world.

    • Thank you so much for the wonderfully kind words, Lerrick! My dad spoke about you often, and so appreciated all of the work that he could do in the service thanks to the leadership that you allowed him to possess. You made a hugely, positive impact on my dad, and I know that his life in the last few years was always a little brighter thanks to you.


  17. Aviva, So sorry for your loss. Thank you for so beautifully sharing your special memories with all of us! Sadly, I lost my Dad very suddenly as well when he was only 68 a few years back. I agree how comforting the small things shared resonate the most! Life is precious and the small moments we all share is what makes it so special. Thinking of you. Jen & Family

    • Thank you so much, Jen! Sharing these memories definitely help, as does the support from amazing people like you. Thanks for sharing your story. I definitely can understand how sad this must have been!


  18. Joanne and I were saddened to hear of your loss. We used to visit the services at Cedarvale and help out with the minyan. Your father was always willing to participate and a great person to speak with.
    Joanne and Joel

  19. Please accept my most sincere condolences. Mark was a shining star in the minyan at Cedarvale and I enjoyed hearing him lead services, it was clear how much he was doing for others. I also enjoyed schmoozing with him- he had a wonderful sense of humour. I will miss him very much.

  20. Aviva, I am very sorry to hear about your father’s sudden death. (Thank you Doug Peterson for letting some of us in the Ontario Edu Online world know.) I don’t know what particular traditions your family and your faith have when someone passes away, but I hope these rituals (and new ones such as reflecting on him on your blog, a personal space for your thoughts, feelings, and processing) bring you comfort.

  21. I’m so sorry about the loss of your father. I lost my father 12 years ago and I still miss him. My thoughts are with you. Rosemary

  22. Hi Aviva,

    I am sorry to hear of your loss and ‘our’s at Cedarvale’s Minyan. I met your father at the minyan. My husband Yehuda is also at Cedarvale and attends the minyan.

    Your father had a nice sense of humor and when Lerrick would make a joke he was quick to pick up on it and add a bit to make the laugh last longer. He usually said hello to me anytime I was there and was clearly a genuinely nice giving person.

    Your father seemed to be friendly with other men in the minyan and enjoyed davening and coming up for an Aliyah. I was there a few times when he had an aliyah.

    I am not there for Shobbos so didn’t get the chance to hear his davening on those occasions. I know he will be sorely missed by us all.

    May you be comforted as are all the mourners of Tzion and Yerushelyim. May you take further comfort in the knowledge that your father has instilled himself and his values in you.

    From on high, Olam HaBa’a, in his sublime place he will hear your every word and be an advocate for you and your other family members.

    Our sincerest condolences,
    Yehuda and Tammy Gilden
    Yehuda 601A

    • Thanks for your comment, Tammy, and for sharing some of these stories. I remember my dad talking about you and Yehuda. He really liked both of you. Hearing these great stories about my dad brings comfort at this very difficult time.


  23. I’m sorry for your loss. Your father had a sense of humour and added a lot of energy to the minyan at Cedarvale. He was also very committed to leading parts of the Shabbat morning services. My condolences.

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