The last 10 days have been totally surreal. If you have aging parents or if you’ve lost a parent, you’ll understand when I say that caring for an ailing parent, watching your parent’s health fail, and ultimately saying goodbye to your parent is something that you can never fully prepare for and it’s never exactly how you imagined it to be. Yesterday, we lost our beloved dad from respiratory failure.
Over the past week, I’ve had time to reflect on our dad’s life. While I often struggled to understand our dad’s life choices, I do respect and appreciate his drive and persistency to do things in his own way.
Dream Big. Build Resilience. Love Hard. This mantra is a reflection of our dad’s life and a tribute to our beloved dad. Our dad, (John) Corky Sartino was born on July 4, 1941 and died on January 5, 2021 after battling several challenging health conditions and ultimately suffering from respiratory failure.
Our dad was born and raised in Rockford, Illinois to the late Pauline and John Sartino. In 1961, our mom, Dorothy Sartino, and dad were married at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Rockford, Illinois. Over the next 13 years, they had 5 children including Terese, Baby John (who died of SIDS at 14 months), Tamara, me, and Josh. Collectively, my siblings and I have 12 children. Our parents have also been blessed with 6 son- and daughter-in-laws throughout the years. We’re anything but a traditional, Italian family, but one thing is certain, and that is, we have a deep connection, respect, and love for each other.
Today, I’d like to honor our beloved dad by sharing some stories, special memories, and lessons learned in hopes that we can all learn something from our dad and take inspired action to live a more joyful, fulfilling life. You see, our dad lived a pretty hard, complex life with more struggle and challenge than most people encounter in their lifetime. Even so, our dad had several great qualities that made him incredibly likable by many. If you’ve ever heard the song, My Way by Frank Sinatra, the lyrics of this song are very fitting for our dad’s life as he was very stubborn and set in his ways.
Our dad was a dreamer and entertainer. In his early career, he owned several restaurants and supper clubs. He also loved to play cards, including two of his favorites, cribbage and gin rummy. Many of our childhood memories relate to entertaining at home or in the restaurant.
On Sunday mornings, I would go to the restaurant with our dad, sit at the bar sipping kiddie cocktails, and play cribbage with the older customers (who were like my grandpas). Afterwards, we would pick up fresh Italian bread, cold cuts, mixed olives, Mrs. Fisher’s potato chips and French onion dip for lunch, and our dad would make London Broil and pasta and sugo for dinner. Our home was the gathering place for our friends and family on Sundays.
If our dad wasn’t entertaining and cooking for friends and family, he and I would often play cribbage or gin rummy at the kitchen table. Our dad was a typical Italian man with dark hair, thick dark eyebrows, a mustache, a larger (Italian) nose, and black framed glasses (at the time). Let’s just say there was a close resemblance to “Groucho” Marx. I don’t remember how I got them, but I would wear these “Groucho” Marx glasses and literally mimic every single move, motion, and action my dad took for hours and hours. If he shuffled the cards, I pretended to shuffle the cards. If he scratched his head, I’d scratch my head. If he took a drink, I’d take a drink. I could literally entertain myself (and my dad) all night long.
When our parents closed their restaurant business, our dad transitioned into car sales. He was a numbers guy and loved to put deals together. He helped many friends and family avoid the hassle of a new car purchase and taught us how to negotiate the best deal possible.
It wasn’t easy raising a family, but he usually found a way to make things work out. He taught us the value of hard work, perseverance and resilience. He was always willing to look at things from another angle and try again. If his initial plan didn't work, he had an alternate plan at the ready.
About ten years ago, he moved to Florida to enjoy the carefree lifestyle in the sunshine state. During his retirement, he worked as an (Uber) driver taking people to/from the airport or on short rides locally to run errands and for appointments. He loved to chat with his clients about their lives and to share stories of his own. He had a knack for handling the persnickety older ladies.
In the last few years, his health started to decline and every time a major event would occur, we’d urge him to move back to Illinois to be closer to our family so we could help care for him. The answer was always, “No, I’m happy in Florida”. Although he was very stubborn, we respected his can-do attitude and desire for independence.
After several major health issues in early December, he finally conceded to move back to Illinois. We were actually planning to move him back in January 2021; however, on December 27th, after talking with him and hearing his labored breathing, we sent him to the hospital for evaluation.
Approximately ten short days later, our dad passed away peacefully, comfortably, and alone. That’s the saddest part of his story is that we pleaded with him to come home sooner so that he didn’t have to be alone when this time came, but our dad wanted to do it his way and so we did. I can see and hear our dad saying now, “I did it my way”.
As I reflect on our dad’s life, there are three lessons that I want to share with you.
Dream Big. Our dad was the king of dreaming up new ideas. I admire him for his creativity, innovation and tenacity, and I wish just one of those ideas would have been "magic" for him. Maybe in his next life he’ll make his dreams a reality. For now, I’ll take inspiration from our dad and aspire to achieve my dreams because dreams help you feel alive, dreams create connection, and dreams give you purpose and meaning. Isn’t that what life is all about?
Build Resilience. If there’s one thing our dad taught his children, it’s about resilience. No matter how many hard knocks my dad took, he always got back up and tried again. Even when he was at his lowest points in life, he’d keep trying. Life is not always unicorns and rainbows. Life is going to throw you some curveballs. Sometimes, more than you can handle. If you can build any skill, you need to build your resilience. It’s the one trait you’ll lean on time and time again.
Love Hard. Life is precious and short. It’s important to tell your friends and loved ones that you love them every single day. You never know when it’ll be the last time you say, “I love you”. It’s true that you learn to receive love when you can give love. As a young child, our dad didn’t really receive much love from his parents, and so he never really learned how to give love. While our dad didn’t show love and affection towards his children and grandchildren very often, he did finally learn to give and receive love in his last days of his life. Don’t let that be your story too. Learn to love yourself. Learn to give love to others. Learn to receive love from others. For love is the greatest gift you can give to each other.
We feel incredibly blessed that we were able to take a beautiful family vacation with our dad, mom, siblings, and almost all of the grandchildren this past summer. We rented a beautiful beachfront home on Carolina Beach. We have several fond memories and gorgeous pictures on the beach and by the pool as keepsakes. We had so much fun that we immediately planned our next family vacation for this coming July. While our dad won’t be there physically, he’ll definitely be there in spirit, and we’re already planning how we can honor his life during this next vacation.
I want to share our deepest gratitude and appreciation for the nurses and doctors at Lakewood Ranch Medical Center in Florida for taking such good care of our dad. Thank you for providing regular updates on his health status. Thank you for listening to his stories and letting him share pictures of his children and grandchildren. Thank you for helping us FaceTime with him. Thank you for saying the rosary with him. Thank you for giving him peace and comfort. You are a special blessing to our dad and to our family. We’re so glad you were there with him.
Thank you for reading to this tribute to our beloved dad, and thank you for giving me the space to honor our dad and share some of his stories, special memories, and life lessons.
I truly hope that you take our dad’s life lessons and apply them to your life as you see fit. If nothing else, do me a favor when you’re done reading this post, and tell your friends and loved ones that you love them. We could all use a little more love in our life today.
Dad, we love you very much, and we miss you already. Peace be with you today and always. Until we see you again....
To close this tribute to our beloved dad, please read the lyrics to this beautiful song.
My Way by Frank Sinatra
And now, the end is near
And so I face the final curtain
My friend, I’ll say it clear
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain
I’ve lived a life that’s full
I traveled each and every highway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way
Regrets, I’ve had a few
But then again, too few to mention
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption
I planned each charted course
Each careful step along the byway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way
Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew
But through it all, when there was doubt
I ate it up and spit it out
I faced it all, and I stood tall
And did it my way
I’ve loved, I’ve laughed and cried
I’ve had my fill, my share of losing
And now, as tears subside
I find it all so amusing
To think I did all that
And may I say, not in a shy way
Oh, no, oh, no, not me
I did it my way
For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows
And did it my way
Yes, it was my way