My dearest Evie, let me tell you a little something about your dad, Bret Hoekema. He made empathy look effortless and being on time look impossible. He loved humanity wholeheartedly, all of it—the good, the bad, but mostly the interesting. His big blue eyes, much like yours, sparkled with curiosity and intention. He dreamed big and didn’t apologize. He took chances, especially with bad jokes, knowing that sometimes he would flop. An endearing quality to say the least.

When I met your dad he was excited just to be. He loved his budding career as a documentary filmmaker at his small startup, Cultivate Studios. He loved his blooming community of artists, oddballs, and explorers in Chicago. He loved lending an ear, shoulder, or beer to anyone that needed it. When I met your dad I fell in love with his kindness. He wore compassion on his sleeve and knew how to show up for others.

But, for as much hope as he had for life, love he had for others, and compassion he had for humanity, he had difficulty intellectualizing suffering. Yet suffering was something he came to know a lot about. Nearly 10 years of cancer treatments and complications took an awful toll.

When your dad was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, he cried for a day, then got to work. When his first treatment didn’t work, he cried for an hour, then got to work. After experimental treatments, radiation therapy, and his first bone marrow transplant didn’t work, we packed up our car and moved into a New York hospital so he could undergo a second, more intensive bone marrow transplant. In line with his propensity for puns, he referred to his cancer as “Dodge-kins Lymphoma,” because no treatment could touch it. Time after time he picked himself back up and said, “What’s next?”

He outwitted death several times, digging his heels in harder and reclaiming his stake in this life. His last two-and-a-half years he spent tethered to an oxygen machine. He cursed it, kicked it, but never complained. In his hardest times, your dad found solace in music, a good film, and laughter—most significantly, yours.

He sought a true connection with everyone he came in contact with. Although a long conversation with a friend might take his breath, it also gave him life. Your dad clung to this life with all he had, against most odds, and far longer than many could imagine. I have no doubt he fought through each day and night to wake up and see your face, your bright blue eyes, just one more time. His love for you is so vast it stretches a trillion miles and crosses easily through time and space and back again. Evie Maeve, your dad will be so missed, but held so tightly in many hearts. Especially ours.

Bret is survived by his wife, Aura Brickler, and 3-year-old daughter, Evie Maeve Hoekema of Chicago, Ill.; parents Ronald and Beverly Hoekema of Churchill, Mont.; brother- and sister-in-law Layne and Sarah Hoekema; brother- and sister-in-law Darin and Stephanie Hoekema; parents-in-law Ellie Lemberis and Tom Brickler; brother and sister-in-law Chris and Katherine Brickler; sister-in-law Austyn Brickler; brother-in-law Aris Brickler; and eight amazing nieces and nephews that he loved so very much: Emily, Caleb, Kyanna, Isaac, Joel, Faith, Willow, and Sienna. Bret is also survived by his grandmother, Betty Dyk of Churchill, Mont., his first confidant and a dedicated jokester whose sense of humor he inherited. Bret leaves behind his oldest and dearest friends who he loved deeply. Bret also leaves with us his writings, which offer a raw, honest, and often humorous glimpse into his decade of living life in spite of cancer: www.hoechemo.com

A memorial service will be planned when it is safe to gather and give proper hugs.