2011 started as uneventfully as any other, and then my father died, and I spent the better part of it alternating between crying, grieving that we lost him at such a young age, miring in guilt over derogatory things I said to him when I was 16, and still even engaging in the sort of magical thinking that this was a horrible nightmare from which I would awaken at any moment.
But more than anything his death indelibly changed the trajectory of how I have parented my own kids in the wake of his passing.
My childhood, while I jokingly refer to it, I consisted of visiting the MRI office on a bi-monthly basis. As an adult I realize the contributing force behind those endless visits to doctors, trying to catch a cancer before it caught me, was my mother. We referred to her as a hypochondriac. I vowed never to become like her. I didn’t want to spend endless hours agonizing over test results, checking every last square inch of my body for signs of disease and in the interim, never truly, fully living in the present moment.
See here’s the thing, I know illness will get me — something will get me. I will die. Just like my father did. And his father before him. And then ironically I watched my mother, at 68 years old, lying in wait — spending every day visiting yet another clinician — most of whom she believed were not listening to her or diagnosing her properly, and I thought she is not living. She is merely surviving — and she spent her life doing just this — living under a dark cloud, waiting for something to claim her. Every pain she had was exacerbated by her fear, it was a vicious cycle that no amount of MRI’s, bone scans, blood tests, or procedures could cure. And tragically just shy of her 69th birthday-she died unexpectedly. All those years of fearing her death- only to be taken without warning.
My father was the polar opposite, although in the years since his death I’ve felt such remorse over the fact that he had to live with my mother and her on-going agonizing for over forty years (the rest of us could say our goodbyes and hightail it out of there) but he was the one who sat with her, took her to different doctors on an ongoing basis while he himself, was in the process of dying. He was sick, sicker than he ever led any of us to believe. He never complained — and so I really did not grasp the gravity of how ill he was. He took it in stride, he found happiness in small things. He enjoyed each day — he relished good weather, a good meal, he was just so darn happy to be in the present. And my mother, was the polar opposite. If I had to measure the quality of life — I’d say his was far better; it was richer, it was well-lived, it was felt in every fiber of his being. It was short — and he was so ill for years — and yet he savored it.
So in honor of my daddy this Father’s Day I guess the greatest lesson I can glean from my father’s life and impart to my kids is to honor every day and not be so eager to catch up with death because soon enough it will find me. I will teach my kids to live as passionately and as purposefully as they can in each and every minute.