Remembering My Father, John G. Avildsen

Last June, Oscar-winning filmmaker John G. Avildsen, director of “Rocky” and “The Karate Kid,” passed away at age 81 from pancreatic cancer. Below, his only daughter Bridget Avildsen sheds light on the final days of her father’s illness and reflects on what it was like in the moment to lose him so suddenly.

The author with her father, John G. Avildsen.

The author with her father, John G. Avildsen.

Since all of this loss, I’ve felt as though I’ve lost myself. Like I’m stuck in my head, second guessing every move. Living so much in the past that I can’t even be present.

I haven’t had much space to fully grieve or heal. I’ve had non-stop family drama and legal and logistical bullshit thrown in my face. I’m learning how to be calm amongst all the chaos but it’s easier said than done. I’m not okay, and haven’t been for some time now. I’ve been in such denial, constantly pushing myself to “be strong” and “be ok.” Recently, I’ve given more energy to truly heal without distractions, and disconnect from what doesn’t matter, and purely connect to my inner little girl, who needs so much healing. My being in denial and resisting all my emotions comes to an end now. I no longer want to be silent. I want others to know that no one teaches you how to go through situations like this. It creeps up on you when you least expect it.

The toughest times make the toughest people. For those hitting rock bottom; You’re not alone, I’m here for you.

This is me attempting to make a long and emotional story short:

Late April of last year, my dad was having issues twisting a bottle cap open. Concerned, he went to the doctor and found out he had had a minor stroke. They decided to do more tests and while digging deeper, discovered that he had pancreatic cancer.

My dad had a very odd way of dealing with things. For instance he kept this a secret from me and waited a month after to tell me what had been going on. He thought he was protecting me by keeping me in the dark. He struggled viewing me as someone other than his little girl. The cancer was aggressive and inoperable. He was quickly losing weight and his motivation to do really anything. Just before all this, I had been teaching him yoga 2-3 days a week, and he was working out with my half-brother almost everyday. His age was never a factor in his vitality and enthusiasm for life. For the first time, I saw him in a way I never had before: frail and weak.

Photos courtesy of Bridget Avildsen.

Photos courtesy of Bridget Avildsen.

My dad was very stubborn though, and wouldn’t take my advice on his diet nor the benefits of weed and CBD. He wanted what he wanted, whether it was beneficial to him or not. I’m filled with remorse to this day, wishing I could turn back time and be more assertive and not take no for an answer. But that man got his way, and there is nothing I could do about it.

About a month after finding out he had cancer, I received a call that my dad was in the hospital. I spent that entire week with him. I could feel his light starting to fade and my heart began to break. But even then I wouldn’t allow myself to crack. I continued holding onto any sort of strength I had left, because I knew I had to stay strong for him. We arranged for him to go through hospice at home since time was running out, and the last place he wanted to be was in the hospital. And then, just like that, time had run out. The day before he was to be released from the hospital, I received a call. It was my father’s partner, frantic and shook, saying, “Come quick it’s really bad!” 

I will never forget running into his room. He immediately looked at me and even through the tubes and mask covering his face, I could see him mouth the words clearly: “I love you.” Those were his last words. Shortly after, he started turning to the other side. I ended up staying with him for the hours until they took him down to the morgue. Although his body was only a vehicle, I couldn’t come to terms with the fact that he was no longer there inside. I sang his favorite songs, shared stories and thoughts with him for hours. Still to this day, it’s hard for me to get that image of him out of my head. I have to hold on to the fact it was only the physical part of him—I know his spirit is stronger and brighter and will continue to shine.

On June 16, 2017, at around midnight, my father John Guilbert Avildsen born December 21, 1935, passed. But now, I often feel him soaring by whenever I need him most, whether it be as a hummingbird or a butterfly, I know he’s nearby. I’m feeling so heavy, so full of feeling that it's overwhelming. I live in regret everyday, regret that I didn’t ask him more questions, that I didn’t act on ideas and hunches right away, regret that I said no to experiences because I continued to hang on to childhood trauma (but that’s another post of its own.) Instead of choosing forgiveness and love, I was holding on to fear and hate.

Learn from my experience. It may not be the same as yours, but my intention is in hopes that you’ll resonate and be able to connect with me on a deeper level. Never take life or the people in it for granted. Even if you haven’t spoken to a parent or a parent-like figure in years because of previous situations, learn to let go, so you can move on to better and brighter experiences together. Don’t let “it’s too late” be an option. You never know when you’ll say goodbye for the last time, so hold on tight and take advantage of every moment you have left.