My parents went through a divorce when I was young. At the time, I was young enough that everything happening went over my head. The only thing I understood was that the two people I love most in this world would be apart.
My mother got custody of my brother and me, and my father disappeared. He was battling some demons from his past — I wish my brother and I had known.
As the years went on, I became bitter. My father was supposed to teach me how to be a man, yet he wasn't around. He would later try to establish our relationship, but I wanted nothing to do with him.
My grandfather (my father's father) was there for us. Despite the divorce and tension between my parents, he did everything he could to stay involved in our lives.
He attended every school event, took us out from time to time, and always got us a book for our birthday. He was a father in the truest definition.
Three years ago I got a call from my grandfather letting me know my father had died in his sleep. He was 54 years old. I felt numb after the call. The next few days didn't seem real. His funeral was my wake-up call.
After the funeral, I lost it. I was mad at him for so long, and now he was gone before I could tell him. The last few conversations we had kept replaying in my mind. The one thing he said over and again was to learn from his life — don't live a life of regret. He told me to chase every significant goal and dream in my heart.
After his funeral, I committed to honoring his memory by changing my life. It took three years, but I lost 170 pounds, quit a job I hated to write full time and moved our family from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to our dream destination of Maui, Hawaii.
My grandfather was around to see all these changes in my life. One day we went to lunch, and he asked what was going on — I told him the commitment I made to my father and family. He was happy.
My grandfather fell and had a brain bleed in 2014; we thought he would pass away. He survived, lived and loved for a few more months. He died this past December, and I miss him so much. Tears are falling as I type those words.
My father died with regret, but my grandfather lived a full life. He served in World War II. He traveled after his service. He went on a 10-month trip through Europe only spending $600. He even got to meet the Pope on that trip and made the news. He stayed active in his older age and always put his family first.
The one thing I learned from both of these men is how to live, love and matter. I learned that I could chase my big dreams, and that I should. I learned that I was living a life of regret and didn't want to die unfulfilled.
Change is hard; it's far easier to coast through a "good enough" life. Their deaths gave me a vivid lesson in the fragility of life. If you've experienced death in your life, I'm guessing I'm preaching to the choir.
Life is short, and we can't get time back. Each of us only gets one life. Will you regret how you're living life right now?
Sometimes it's hard to believe it's possible for you. It may be the news or past experiences, but too often someone will read an article like this and automatically get skeptical.
I didn't have some magical lucky break. I didn't win the lottery. I just committed to spending three years changing my life, and I worked hard. You don't need any crazy luck or a miracle; you just have to believe in yourself and what's possible.
I hope it doesn't take a death before you start living the kind of life you truly want to live. Life is short, so make it count.
Photo Credit: Getty Images