“As I sat in my car in the parking lot of the therapist’s office, I closed my eyes. The therapy session had begun in my own head. It started with the same debate I had been having with myself for nearly 20 years.
‘Turn the car back on and just leave. Therapy is for losers. You are being weak,’ my inner demon stated, but this time not nearly as confident as he was when I was 11 and entering counseling for the first time after my parents’ death.
‘Are you serious? Asking for help is not being weak! Showing vulnerability is not being weak! I have listened to you for too long! I am way off the path my parents had me on. I need help,’ I retorted. Just internally saying the words ‘I need help’ lifted a huge weight off my shoulders. I opened my eyes, got out of the car, shut the door and locked it. I left my inner demon locked inside that car as I went to get help.
No offense but I don’t think the therapist did much for me. There was only one person who could help me and only one person who was holding me back. It was the person I saw in the mirror every day. I have always felt I was destined to be great. My parents greatly aided in this way of thinking. However, after their death, I kept getting in my own way. So how could I get out of my own way? How could I get back on the path towards greatness my parents had me on? The first step was dealing with the elephant in the room… their passing.
It was the middle of October in 1994 and my mom rushed into my bedroom shouting, ‘Get up! Get up! Your father had a stroke! I need you to keep him from getting out of bed while I call 911.’
As I sprang from my bed and sprinted to their room, several thoughts went through my mind. ‘911? This must be serious! My mom is running, she never runs! My dad had a stroke! Wait, what’s a stroke?’
Passing through my parents’ bedroom door, I stopped so suddenly you would have thought I ran into a wall. What I saw was a nightmare, a real-life nightmare. At the time I didn’t know what a stroke was. All I saw was my dad as a zombie. He was sitting up with his arms stretched out in an uncoordinated manner. Half of his body was lower than the other half and he groaned this horrendous noise from his mouth. His eyes were open but rolled back so all I saw was white. He was violently trying to get up. My mom told me not to let him up. As tears rushed down my cheeks, I ran over and pushed him in the chest.
Have you ever had a vivid nightmare that felt so real but as soon as you wake up you can’t remember the details? This is what happened to me that night. I remember everything in great detail up until I pushed him in the chest. The next thing I remember is crying my mother’s lap in the waiting room of the hospital. My mom was right about him having a stroke. My dad went into a coma and had extensive brain damage. The doctor told us that if he did live, there would be a very small chance he would remember us. The doctor said he would more likely be a vegetable and have to live in a nursing home. My mother knew he wouldn’t want that so she had him taken off life support. The night before Halloween, he passed away. I never got to say goodbye to my dad properly.
For three months, my mom and I tried to live as normal a life as possible. Getting through that first Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s without him was excruciating. We surrounded ourselves with family, but it wasn’t the same. As hard as it was, we got through it together. It was the middle of January in 1995 and things were starting to get better. Well, that is until my mom complained of her foot hurting on a Monday. The pain grew worse and worse throughout the week. That Saturday I was playing in a basketball game. I came off the court, sat on the bench and grabbed some water when I felt a hand on my shoulder. My mother said her foot hurt so bad that she had to go home. After my game, I did everything I could around the house so she could rest. On Monday morning I woke up to an unusual sound. I could hear the TV on in the living room. This is weird; I always wake up before my mom. My mother was sitting in our Lazy-Boy recliner with her foot propped up.
‘I need you to be brave and call 9-1-1. I can’t walk and need to go to the doctor. I just need some antibiotics. Don’t worry though. This is not like what happened to your father,’ pleaded my mom.
I tried to process what my mom just asked me to do without freaking out. Back in the ‘90s, there was a TV show called ‘9-1-1.’ It recreated scenarios where 9-1-1 was called and told the stories of what happened. Not once on the show did anyone call it for some antibiotics. With my hands and voice shaking, I made the call.
As we waited for the ambulance to arrive I sat next to my mom speechless. She kept repeating over and over this wasn’t like what happened to my dad. When the EMTs arrived, they reaffirmed my mother’s statement. They said it was an infection and needed antibiotics and at worse, she would have to spend the night at the hospital. They took her away and I went to school and tried to get into my normal rhythm.
After school on Mondays, I had wrestling practice and then lifting in the weight room. As I left the weight room there was a surprise guest waiting to pick me up. It was my older brother. This was weird because at the time he was attending the Ohio State University for his master’s degree. OSU is located in Columbus, Ohio, and I lived in the middle of Michigan. Why was he there when he should be in class in a different state? He broke the news to me when we got home.
‘Your mom has a bad infection and she had to have emergency surgery. They took her leg. They are not sure she is going to make it,’ he said somberly.
I fell to my butt, scooted back against the kitchen cabinets and pulled my knees up to my chest. I buried my head into my arms and knees and bawled uncontrollably.
‘But everyone said it wouldn’t be like my dad,’ was all I kept repeating.
My mother contracted an extremely rare flesh-eating bacteria. At the time she was the 11th case ever in North America. No one had survived it. The doctors’ only course of action was repeated surgeries to remove infected areas on her body. My mother’s situation was a little different than my father’s in that she was awake. She had a breathing/feeding tube in so she couldn’t talk, but she could write. We would all talk to her and she would write down her responses. After two weeks of fighting, she decided to end treatment and accept her fate. She didn’t want to live without a leg. She didn’t want to be in pain anymore. She wanted to be with her husband. Within a day or two of her decision, she passed away. At least I got to say goodbye to her.
Shortly after I became an orphan, I turned 12 and I was a know-it-all kid. I did some self-analysis and came up with that I was sad, afraid that anyone I loved would die, angry, felt alone and had trust issues. My whole 12 years of ‘wisdom’ was correct on the symptoms, but way off on the diagnosis. I never for a second thought I was depressed. I thought people with depression were weak. The joke was obviously on me.
The joke lasted nearly 20 years. I was sprinting into darkness and I didn’t even know it. One day around the age of 30 I was sitting in my cubicle at a job I hated. This is not the life I dreamed of as a kid. This is not the path to greatness. My parents would not be proud of my progress. Most importantly, I was not proud of where I was.
So how do I get back onto the path I was on before my parents had died? I spent countless days and nights trying to figure this out. The saying about houses built on shaky foundations never last kept going through my head until it clicked. I needed to go back to the fundamentals that my parents taught me. This is when everything changed.
I was an excellent student, stellar athlete and thrived in community service while my parents were alive. They were the driving force for this. The second step to getting back of my path towards greatness was reinstituting the lessons they taught me.
One of the more important lessons they taught was work ethic. Due to my height, I was bullied most of my childhood for being so small. My mom and dad didn’t take the approach of calling and complaining whenever I was bullied. Instead, they asked me what I wanted and then helped me find a different way to obtain it. They would tell me there was nothing that could be done to make me taller, so I had to find a different route. They showed me if I worked hard and smart enough, that I could make my physical limitation obsolete.
Another important lesson was being conscious of who I surrounded myself with. I truly believe in Jim Rohn’s philosophy that you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Most of the time I spent in the dark place following my parents passing was enabled by the company I put myself in. It was unbelievably tough, but I had removed most of my ‘friends’ and surrounded myself with uplifting people who believed in me.
Probably the most important lesson they ever taught me was to play the hand I was dealt. For the longest time, I wasn’t comfortable being an orphan. I would switch from using my story for pity to not telling anyone about that part of me. I had the hardest time developing real relationships because I never felt whole with anyone until I embraced being an orphan. I finally realized my parents were never coming back. I realized that there was nothing to be ashamed of about being an orphan. It is who I am and it is my story.
The final step now that I am back on the right path is defining what greatness means to me. To me, it means to help others. I have almost 20 years of experience in coaching and mentoring youth, specifically teenagers, between being a high school wrestling coach and counseling a high school aged camp at a Christian organization. I realized it was time to share my story so today’s youth could avoid the dark path I was on. I believe my message is universal and can help anyone who is in dark times or just wants to better themselves. I published my memoir called ‘My Orphan Journey: How I Found My Way After My Parents Death.’ It details exactly what happened throughout my childhood before and after their passing. I also detail the exact techniques I use every day to better myself so I can live a life I am proud of. I am also speaking to schools, youth organizations and parent groups about my story and teaching them my methods for pushing past any self-imposed limits you have so you can achieve greatness.
Lastly, to better my community I started the Be A Superhero Project podcast. My mission is to uncover the Superheroes who walk among us every day and share their stories in hopes of inspiring others to help make our world a better place. I have shared the stories of Superheroes from across the United States. This project has also led me to volunteer and raise money for several amazing nonprofits throughout my community.
For nearly 20 years I traveled down a dark path, the wrong path. Now I’m back on the path my parents would be proud of, more importantly, the path I am proud of. ”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Giovanni Mion. You can follow his journey on his website, Instagram and Facebook. You can learn more about his book here, and his Be A Superhero Project here. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.
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