By Julie Gregory, Chief Health Liaison for Apollo Health

I was trying so hard to be brave, positive, even grateful after being told I had to give up everything in my house that was “porous.” Those of you on the mold journey know what I’m talking about. If you’re experiencing symptoms and mold has been identified in your home, the remediation process includes emptying the house, discarding anything porous (that can allow mycotoxins to enter), cleaning everything else, remediating, then slowly re-introducing things back into the home. That means saying good-bye to my upholstered furniture, my carpets, my bedding, my son’s grade school artwork, even his tiny baby clothes. But, when I got to my daddy’s books, I just broke down into a sobbing mess overcome with grief.

I know it’s ridiculous for an almost 60-year-old woman to refer to her father as “daddy,” but he died when I was two years old, and my relationship with him froze at that moment in time. I never got to call him “Dad,” I never received his support and guidance, I never got to have him walk me down the aisle. He’s a mythical giant to me, this man who loved me with his whole being, but who left before I could even speak to him. I think for that reason, the few things that I have of his are so precious to me.

He died when he was only 25 years old doing what he loved — sailing on Lake Michigan. Indeed, sailing had been among his passions since he was a teenager. He also loved the arts, photography, literature, and poetry. Despite never having the opportunity to attend college, he had a love of learning that still connects me to him across time. What young man in his twenties would buy a leather-bound set of the Great Books with the intention of reading through each? For those who are unfamiliar, the Great Books of the Western World, originally published in 1952, were a 54-volume set of what were considered to be the most important ideas in Western Civilization, including works from authors like Milton, Aristotle, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, and Hippocrates. I carried his books with me from home to home, reading some and proudly displaying them in my bookcases. They’re beautiful, deeply meaningful, and an important connection to a man I never had the privilege to know.

Amongst his books was a small red cloth-bound book, a collection of poems by Dylan Thomas. One poem stood out as it was bookmarked with a small scrap of paper. It was pencil marked and underlined in multiple places with exclamation points. It was clearly a poem that deeply spoke to him. It seems almost prophetic that he would focus on this poem out of them all, almost as though he had a premonition that his life would be cut short.

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light!!!

I originally found this book with these pencil marks when I was a teenager. At that time, they almost made me angry with him. I felt like he knew, and he didn’t fight hard enough. After being swept off the bow, he should have been able to swim against the mighty Lake Michigan waves, to get back to shore to make it home to his pregnant wife, with three little ones awaiting his arrival. But my mythical giant of a daddy was just a man, after all, helpless against the power of the fiercest of the Great Lakes.

This past summer, my husband and I bought a boat. It was a brave step for me as I’ve always been terrified of Lake Michigan because of my family legacy. But sailing through the same harbor, past the same majestic lighthouse that my father would have passed, I saw the beauty. I felt the excitement in the waves, the seagulls chasing us, the wind whipping us around. I felt the glory, the peace, the serenity of being in the open water. On calm days, the gentle waves hypnotized me, lulled me to sleep. I felt connected to him by experiencing what he loved.

Now, I look at these words differently. I see them as my battle cry, my anthem. Maybe he was sending me a message across time, telling me to fight, to do what it takes to make it to old age. The protocol isn’t always easy; it’s certainly not a path of convenience. At this point, I have no idea where I’ll be living in a month, in a year, or if I’ll ever get back to our beloved home. I’m not even sure how much of what I’ve been instructed to do that I’ll follow.

One thing I do know is that I will use my experience to try to learn what’s necessary (and what’s not) when it comes to mold remediation — perhaps challenging some of the traditional recommendations. I’ll be working equally hard on creating resiliency within myself so that I can withstand exposure to the same mold that we’ve been living with for millennia while cleaning up the environment around me. I’ll journal my experience, both my failures and successes, so that we as a community can come closer to a more feasible path towards healing. By taking this route, I do know that I’m raging against the dying light. And I, for one, do not plan to go gentle into that good night.

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