Love Your Guts – Remembering Dad and Loving Me

24176976_1556838874411128_1248769002728280484_nMy dad’s signature sign off in letters, emails, texts or calls was always ‘love your guts’. They were the last words he ever said to me when we hung up the morning before his car accident.

For seven years, I wanted to memorialize him in a meaningful way and went back and forth about different tattoo ideas… until two months ago when I found a letter he wrote to me when I was away at camp as a kid; the bottom of the letter donned his signature words.

I knew instantly this needed to be my tattoo. It’s not only a personal way to remember him and his goofy writing, but also a reminder to love myself everyday just as I am – insecurities, guts and all.

Thank you @di.polar for doing such a perfect job recreating my dad’s handwriting. This will no doubt be one of the most important and meaningful tattoos I’ll ever get


2,557 days

2,557 days.

That’s how many days it’s been since my Dad left us. Seven years.

So much has happened and up until recently, I felt like he had missed so much. Birthdays. Christmases. Weekly dim sum. Don’t even get me started on Father’s Day.

When I stop to think about it – truly, think about it – I realize he hasn’t missed a single thing – he’s been a part of it all because I’ve carried him with me.

Getting married, moving across the country, house purchases, new jobs, university graduation and even the long-standing Saturday dim sum tradition that’s been happily kept going.




I’d give anything to bring him back but I can’t change what happened no matter how hard I try or how much of my own life I used to be willing to bargain away for just “five more minutes”.

Losing my Dad broke my heart in ways I never imagined possible, but the irony is, his death also taught me a lot about life.

💕That it goes on, whether we want it to or not

💕That it’s so, so short

💕That the only guarantee we have is this moment

💕That our happiness is a choice and entirely up to each one of us – I’m not responsible for yours any more than you are mine

💕 That when you’re faced with something horrible and life-changing, sometimes being strong is the only choice you have

💕That it’s a gift – and I need to make the most of it

And that’s what I’m trying to do.

By sharing funny stories. By carrying him with me. By continuing to sing AC/DC completely tone-deaf. By learning from his mistakes. By ensuring I live my life the way he would have wanted me to: completely, fearlessly and without regret. The last three are a work in progress but I’m getting a bit better every day.

Never one to half-ass anything, he managed to create in an entire lifetime of love and memories in his 49 short years and I’m continually grateful that of all the Dads in this world, he was mine.

Today will inevitably be a bit harder than most and I feel more fragile than normal, but I take comfort in knowing his selflessness in donating his organs and tissues has enabled better quality of life to his recipients who today, are celebrating another year with their families. Between his five recipients and the time passed, he’s enabled 35 years of better life – his legacy is truly living on.

I wish I could bring you back Dad, but since we can’t, your four bees are doing our damnedest to make you proud instead.

You’re desperately love and missed everyday.

2,174 days: A letter to Dad

Dear Dad,

Today is six years.

Two thousand, one hundred and seventy-four days.

You’ve missed 20% of my life, just like that. One day, you’ll have been gone from it longer than you were part of it. I can’t even bear the thought.

Time has a way of playing tricks with our mind: some days, it feels like it was just yesterday I was walking hopelessly through the halls of Sunnybrook’s ICU, the sweet smell of hand sanitizer wafting through the air. I remember the hissing and clicking of your ventilator as it pushed oxygen in and out of your lungs, its noise overshadowed only by the dozen monitors by your bedside, beeping every few moments to let us know you were still alive.

But deep down, we both know you weren’t. You left us at the side of the 401 when your car crashed and the paramedics had to revive you. I remember feeling such hope that you would recover.

1451559_547247985370227_460062791_nIn my naïve, 24-year-old mind, you were going to wake up despite what the doctors said. You would be one of those cases people talked about, the person who comes out of the devastating coma and continues on with his life. But as the days ticked on and your sedation wore off, it became clear you’d never open your eyes again. You’d never take us for dim sum. You’d never call. You’d never do anything again – except, in your last act of selflessness, become a hero to five other men. It sounds so simple, but it took me months to appreciate the impact of your gift on those other families.

The seven days in the hospital felt like an eternity – back and forth between family meetings; trying to keep all of your many friends and co-workers updated as they came by, called and emailed (you have no idea how many people were praying for you, do you?); making sure Papa and the other bees were OK; beginning to make your final arrangements; working with hospital staff to determine your eligibility for organ donation; and most importantly, spending time with you.

I remember the last time I came to see you by myself in the hospital. We were letting you go that night, because it’s what you always told us you’d want if you were ever in that terrible situation. We used to laugh about it, because the changes were so slim. “Nothing can take out your Daddy!”, you’d joke. But there was nothing funny about that horrible day in July.

You were snoozing away in your hospital bed, thanks to the help of your ventilator, and although we were inside protected from that blistering Toronto summer day, the air felt muggy. Your room was dark even with the curtains were open– I suppose that’s the benefit of having your bed in the middle of the room between two concrete walls. In any other circumstance, the plain walls and sterile bedding would have felt so cold but knowing you were lying there, completely incapacitated and without a hope of recovering made me flushed with panic. The room felt like a prison rather than a space to heal.

I stood at the foot of your bed for a moment, still in disbelief. How did a man who had little more than a cut on the side of his head have such a fatal brain injury? The patients in neighbouring beds were visibly injured – broken bones, stitches, missing limbs, bandages and monitors galore – yet their prognosis was more favourable than yours. They were going to walk out with their lives while we were about to sign the papers to end yours.

I pulled a chair up to your bedside and closed my eyes for a moment, trying to ignore the taunting beeps of your monitors. I imagined I was somewhere else, anywhere but a hospital room saying goodbye to you.

I grabbed your hand, the same hand I hung onto as a kid when we went out for walks. The same hand that high-fived me when I graduated college. The same hand that was supposed to give me away when I got married. The same hand that was supposed to one day hold grandchildren.

I squeezed it, so desperately wishing for a reaction – anything – back.

I put down your bed rail, took out my iPod and put an earbud in each of our ears. I remember you telling me you used to sing Joe Cocker’s ‘You Are So Beautiful’ to me as a little girl when you were trying to comfort me. In those final hours, it was my turn to comfort you. I turned on the song, closed my eyes and laid my head on your pillow, convincing myself you could hear it, too. I began to cry so hard my entire body shook. The realization that this would be our last time hearing this song together hit me like a freight train. When the song was over, I had covered your pillow in tears.

A few hours later, surrounded by those who loved you most and with AC/DC playing in the background, your heart flickered its final beat, perfectly in tune to the last note of Thunderstruck. That moment, for me, remains hauntingly beautiful – your final song at your AC/DC shows perfectly aligned to your final moment on Earth.

On July 14, you went from being present to a memory.

When memories are all you have, you hang onto them for dear life. In the beginning, I talked about you incessantly. I was terrified of forgetting the littlest details, the most insignificant stories. In those the first few months, I felt I was constantly chasing you – that you weren’t really gone, but just around the next corner, except I could never catch up. I found artificial comfort in the bottom of bottles and felt sheer panic from listening to the music you loved. I couldn’t take a deep breath – it’s like there was an elephant on my chest for months. A beach ball had inflated in my throat and every time someone asked me how I was, it felt like I was being strangled from the inside out. I became short tempered, withdrawn, and dependent – a far cry from the vibrant young woman you had seen just months before.

I knew losing you would be hard. I knew losing you would change everything. But I didn’t appreciate just how much. The physical impacts of grief were almost as bad as the emotional ones. Some days, I just couldn’t find the strength to get out of bed. I hurt everywhere. It was painful to breathe. My stomach ached for weeks on end. I was devastated. Then uncontrollably angry at you. I was convinced I would die from a broken heart.

But gradually, over time, the physical pain subsided. I’ve had six years to get used to this new normal: a normal where you’re untouchable, yet the memories of you are close; a normal where I can’t see you yet I know you’re always watching; a normal where nearly everything has changed except one thing: how much I miss you.

I still talk about you often; I share your stories – your funny antics, your ‘Malcolm-isms’ and your painful moments. You weren’t perfect by a long shot, but then again, none of us are.  (And don’t worry, my boycott of your beloved music didn’t last long – I no longer see listening to it as torture and have instead embraced my inner rock star, belting out lyrics, completely out-of-tune, every now and again.)

You’ve missed so much in six years, Dad. Your boys have become hard-working, loyal men. You daughters have become strong, independent women. Remember how we always used to say I’d end up out west? I’m here. I’ve married an incredible man you’ll never meet but would have absolutely adored. I’m doing a job I know you’d find “really fucking cool”. I eat dim sum on the regular. I went back to school. I started skating again. I’m (painfully, slowly) writing a book. I’ve screwed up along the way – a lot – and I know you’d probably ask what the hell I was thinking at times, but I’ve gradually found my way.

I feel, for the first time in my life, I’m right where I’m supposed to be. If only you were here to see it.

We miss you, Dad. Your sisters miss you. Everyone misses you. But it doesn’t change the fact that you’re gone.

In the beginning, I would have given away years of my own life just to have five more minutes with you. At one point, even 40 years seemed like a reasonable trade. Although losing you irrevocably changed me, your decisions and death have taught me a lot.

It’s bittersweet. By losing you, I’ve gained perspective I would have never known otherwise yet am so grateful for.

I know firsthand how short life is.

I know firsthand how strong I can be, because being strong in those weeks and months was the only choice I had.

I know firsthand how important it is to be surrounded by people you love during happy times, and especially during difficult ones.

I know firsthand that by simply making your wishes known to your family, you can dramatically change – and save – the lives of so many others.

I know firsthand how important it is to ask for help when you need it.

I know firsthand  that sometimes the best outcomes come from making really, really hard choices.

I know firsthand how important it is to listen to what your gut is telling you.

I know firsthand that I can only control my own actions, no one else’s – including yours- no matter how badly I try.

Most importantly, I know firsthand I’ll be OK.

I survived losing you, though you’re still very much alive in our memories. We carry your legacy for you and know that those five men whose lives you positively changed forever think about you every day, too. We’re continuing to move forward, because it’s the only choice we have, each of our respective milestones coming with a pang of sadness that you aren’t here to celebrate, support, laugh and cry with us.

You may have only lived 49 years, but you crammed a hell of a lot into it and gave me a lifetime of memories. Of all the Dads in the world, I’m so glad you’re mine.

Today will be a little harder than yesterday – the milestones always are. The beach ball will reappear and I’m sure at times, I’ll fight to keep my composure but I’ll still honour you just as you would have liked: by blasting some AC/DC, making a big Scottish breakfast and continuing to make the same – and different – choices you did.

You’re desperately loved and missed everyday, Daddy.

Love always,


The writing’s on the wall (literally)


 It’s been a crazy few months (well, year): The Brit and I got engaged, ticked off a couple bucket list trips, planned a wedding, got married and moved into a new place.

I made a promise to my Dad on his birthday last year, December 6, that I’d have a proposal done for my book by his next one. Maybe it was a bit foolish, maybe it was a bit too ambitious, but now that we’re settled in our place and my book outline is in my line of sight, I’m back at it. No excuses, no pretending it’s not on my radar – it’s smack in the middle of our living space daring me everyday to open my computer and add to my outline, finish another chapter, have the courage to bleed on the keyboard, as my favourite memoir coach so eloquently put it.
These last few months have taught me that I hardly ever “feel” like writing. Writing isn’t a mood, it’s a choice. And one I need to make every. single. night. Sometimes I nail it on the first draft and other times it takes an army of editors. But I first need to make the choice to do it. So, here’s to diving back in full speed.

A gift to Dad on his birthday

Today is my Dad’s birthday. He would have been 55 years young.

I say “is” because December 6 will always be my Dad’s birthday; I say “would have been” because he’s not been here to celebrate his birthday with us in five years.

The first birthday he was gone was five months after his car accident. I feared the day almost as badly as I feared the dreaded one-year anniversary.

I took the day off work, I went out with friends to do mindless Christmas shopping, and we took my Dad’s dad out for dinner at the Mandarin, my Dad’s favourite place to binge on Chinese food. We purposely left an empty chair at our table as a painful reminder of his absence.

I remember crying so hard on the way home from the restaurant that I became hysterical and had to pull over. As I was choking and gasping for air through my full-body sobs, I couldn’t stop thinking that it just wasn’t fair.

I felt so sorry for my grandfather, who was out marking his son’s birthday yet his boy wasn’t there to share it with him. I’ll never forget the sadness in his eyes or the hopeless tone of his voice. His only son was gone and he was never coming back – to him, it was a fate worse than death.

Fast forward four years and here I sit at 7 a.m. eating leftover Chinese food and thinking about my Dad. Not much has changed – he’s still gone, but the tears are under control and the cuisine is still inspired by him (although perhaps a poor choice for breakfast).

While each passing year has become more “normal”, I still miss calling him, meeting him for all-you-can-binge Chinese food and having him act surprised and grateful when my three siblings and I would pay for his dinner.

Three years ago, I started writing a book about my Dad’s passing and my subsequent journey. Yesterday, I found the query letter I sent to an agent about it – he asked for an exclusive when the manuscript was finished. I was thrilled someone was interested and started writing every day. I was convinced I would have a draft in 12 weeks.

Today, the manuscript sits at a mere 25,000 words; Dad’s death and my subsequent journey remain largely untold.

I have the support to get it done; Patti Hall is a memoir coach who has been mentoring me and subtly kicking my ass every now and then by way of “why aren’t you writing?” and “use me, I’m here!” messages.

I don’t have an answer as to why it’s not done, other than the fact that it seems daunting to do. A whole book? What if no one cares about my story? What if it never gets published?

Meeting with Patti again this week while she was in town has made me realize the biggest and scariest “what if” is “what if I just didn’t write it at all?”.

No one would know, really, except myself and a handful of others who knew I was writing. But I would know. And I know I would be so disappointed in myself if I didn’t give it a valiant effort.

So, today, on my Dad’s 55th birthday, I’m giving him the promise of a book proposal this year. I will write his story and his choices and our relationship and my journey in the hopes people will be inspired to make the same decisions and different decisions. I will submit it to agents. I will not be disappointed if it doesn’t get picked up.

OK, scratch that last bit – I’ll be disappointed, but even if it doesn’t, I did all that I could. In the meantime, I’m going to finish my chow mien and deep fried shrimp (which, by the way, are not-so-great the next morning) and put together a plan to make this happen.

Happy birthday, Daddy. You’re desperately loved and missed every year.


An open letter to organ donor families

Dear Donor Family,

I am writing to you during the most difficult and darkest time in your life. I’m truly sorry you’re going through this. Please know that my heart is breaking for you.

You may already be coming to the realization that the end is inevitable, or perhaps you are at the beginning stages of the life-changing tragedy that will ultimately lead you to a decision that you will need to make – the choice to donate your loved one’s organs and tissues.

I know how hopeless this situation feels. The frustration that nothing more can be done; the fear of continuing life without your loved one; and the grief that may already be setting in are overwhelming. I know this, because I experienced it firsthand.

My name is Alyshia and I am a donor family member. My Dad, Malcolm Higgins, was in a single-vehicle car accident in 2010 and sustained a critical brain injury. His eldest child at 24 years old at the time, I was appointed his substitute decision maker. The moment I received the phone call that he’d been in an accident, I knew my life would change forever.

When my three younger siblings and I learned my Dad would never awake from his injury, we chose to withdraw life support. He was six months shy of his 50th birthday.

I remember the day so vividly: the fear, the heartbreak and the devastation were almost too much to bear. I also remember another feeling: comfort. My Dad met the criteria for organ donation. We were fortunate that our father had been very vocal about his wishes – should he ever be eligible to donate, he wanted to do so.

Through his gift, one man received a double-lung transplant; two men each received a kidney, freeing them from the rigorous routine of dialysis; and two more received the gift of sight through his corneas.

In our darkest moments, the thought that something positive could come out of our heartbreaking tragedy provided immeasurable comfort. While our family was getting the worst news of our lives, five other families were getting the best phone call of theirs – their loved ones were getting a second chance.

You may be surprised to know that today, right this minute, there are nearly 500 people waiting for a life-saving organ transplant in British Columbia alone and over 4,500 nationwide. To so many of us, this number is not just a statistic; it represents our friends, siblings, cousins, children, and parents who are all desperately waiting for the gift of life.

For a young BC recipient, Addison, that phone call came just in time. Born with a heart condition in 2011, her parents learned when she was weeks old that she would need a transplant – and soon.

The call for them came on Mother’s Day. In the midst of losing their own child, another family selflessly chose to save her parents from going through the same heartbreak. Today, this beautiful little girl is nearly four years old and living a happy, healthy normal life. You can read more about her journey here.

There are no words to describe parents who lose their children because it’s just not supposed to happen. Tragically, it does and all too often.

My Dad’s father – my grandfather – experienced this. He was devastated to outlive one of his children, but was immensely proud of the legacy his only son was leaving behind.

I can’t even begin to imagine the pain, the anger and the heartbreak of losing a child because I am not a mother. What I can tell you is how it feels to have a family member who is a hero.

When we were told my Dad’s grave prognosis, I desperately wanted to do something – anything – to make him better, but the reality was he could no longer be helped. It broke my heart to think of all of the things he was going to miss out on.

He won’t be there to walk me down the aisle at my wedding and I will never have a memory of him beaming with pride and kissing me on the cheek as his little girl one last time. He’ll miss the grandchildren my siblings and I will eventually have and there will never be another Christmas where we’ll sit down as a family, reminisce about years gone by and make new traditions. Our memories are now all we have – and the knowledge that my Dad has given a future to others.

For three families whose fathers, brothers, husbands and friends were saved through his selflessness, they will have these things for many years to come. In fact, I know through correspondence with my Dad’s double-lung recipient that he was able to proudly walk his daughter down the aisle without an oxygen tank in tow and visited his family out west for the first time in 10 years. He can bounce his grandkids on his knees, travel with his wife and walk up the stairs in his home without gasping for air. (By complete flook, my sister and I met him at an organ donation event – he’s such a lovely man.)

An Enviable Legacy - My Dad's Story of Donation

Making the choice to donate is not a difficult one, but one made during the most difficult of times and I know this firsthand. Donating your loved one’s organs and tissues will never take away the pain of losing them, but it can provide you with some solace in your time of overwhelming grief.

One single donor can potentially save up to eight lives through organ donation. Imagine sparing other families from losing their loved ones, allowing them to see another birthday, another Christmas, even just another day.

For those waiting, time is running out. Without transplants, the people on the wait list will inevitably die.

I respectfully ask that in your time of grief, you consider the life-changing and life-saving gift organ and tissue donation can have.  

Your choice will not only impact the immediate future of your loved one’s recipients, but will create an eternal legacy.

My dad always used to say his four kids would amount to greater things than he could, but I beg to differ. There is no greater gift you can give someone than life itself and he achieved that three-fold.

The man whose gift saved three lives and gave sight to two more; the man whose story has been shared in three countries and the man whose donation inspired his four children and countless others was my father and for that, I couldn’t be more proud.


Please, register your consent, talk to your family and speak to your loved one’s health-care team. The decision you make will change lives forever – including your own.

With sincere gratitude,

A Proud Donor Daughter

Revisiting the past: Missing out, missing Dad, missing normal

When my dad died almost five years ago, I was a very naïve 24-year-old. Having been shopping moments before I got the phone call of his accident, I was forced to grow up in a second. Seven days later, I was violently shoved from being a young, carefree young adult into a world where I was suddenly given the power to end my dad’s life. I signed the papers that ultimately did – we removed life support, knowing it’s what he would have wanted.

In the days and months that followed, I wrote letters to my Dad through a blog. Some days I was mad at him, others I was sorry for myself but every day, I missed him terribly.

With more than 50,000 words written through the blog, I’m revisiting the entries and using them as part of my book that I’ve started writing once again. It’s almost like a gift I’ve given to myself. I recorded so many details that were so important at the time but now are distant, if not completely absent, memories.

The entry below brought me right back to that stage. I remember feeling hopeless and devastated – I truly thought my grief would crush me. I wish I could go back and tell my 24-year-old self that it would get better… or at least just give her a hug.

Post title: Missing Dad, missing out, missing normal

Originally posted: October 8, 2010

Whether my days go by fast or slow, whether the weather is nice or awful, whether I feel productive or completely useless, one thing always seems to remain the same: dad is gone.

I almost feel like I’m stuck in a rut, and the more I try to get out of it, the deeper it gets. I’m spinning my tires and trying my best to get out of the hole I’m in, but no matter how hard I try, how much I rock to get moving, I’m stuck in one place. And it’s not a good one.

I keep thinking about how much dad is going to miss out on. After letting my thoughts wander for several hours last night, I thought about how much I was going to miss out on too. I’ll never experience the smile on his face and the big hug I would have gotten from telling him I got engaged. I won’t see him beam with pride as he walks me down the aisle. I won’t get any more teary Joe Cocker messages. I won’t see the delight on his face when I tell him he’s going to be a grandfather. No more Christmases, birthdays, Easters, Thanksgivings, dim sum outings or Mandarin trips. I have no reason to celebrate Father’s Day.

It’s too much.

I miss dad so much words can’t even begin to describe it. I feel like his death and the circumstances surrounding it are a huge weight on my chest. I don’t even what it feels like to take a normal breathe that isn’t constricted by the heaviness of the grief on my chest and devastation in my heart.

I feel old. I feel achy. I don’t want to have to deal with reality, but want more than anything for things to be normal again. I know there will never be such thing. At least not the normal I was accustomed to.

Dad was supposed to live to 80 and die as an old man – not a 49-year-old. He was supposed to spend his last 30 years happy, loving us, loving himself and playing in his band. He should be fishing, going to court, meeting us for food, not floating off in some other land where he’s untouchable and never to be seen or heard from again.

I pictured him sitting in an old rocking chair on a small, square deck sitting by a river’s edge at a trailer somewhere. He would still be wearing his cut off T- shirts, ugly dollar store shoes we kidded with him for buying, and the Value Village shorts he loved to brag about scoring deals on. A small radio would be playing 95.7, and a fishing pole would be close by, if not in his hand. A cold beer would touch his lips every so often and a dog would be sleeping peacefully at his feet. He was supposed to die old, at peace and when he lived his full life.

The reality of his untimely death is disturbing, and unfair. He barely had any wrinkles and was the smallest he had ever been in the 24 years I had known him. He was battling many demons. He was miserable and trying desperately to stay afloat while attempting to shake off two of the biggest weights any human can even begin to imagine. His life wasn’t close to being over. At least not to us.

I don’t know what’s worse – him being here struggling, or us struggling with the aftermath of his passing.