“What were your dad’s last words to you?” is a question I’ve heard a lot in the past two weeks. There is an implied expectation last words will be profound.
Here is the last exchange I had with my Dad when I could be absolutely certain I understood what he was trying to say: “How do you feel this morning?” “I feel great!” (He was propped up in a hospital chair, couldn’t open his eyes, couldn’t swallow, yet not complaining.) “What have you been doing all morning?” “We had a volleyball tournament. Our team won.”
The answer to the last words question? Dad was cracking jokes, making people smile, not complaining, and enjoying what he could of the life he had left. That’s how I want to go. It seems profound to me.
I had lunch with my Dad at least once a week for the past five years, and while we often said nothing to each other, like men tend to do, we never ran out of things to talk about. I am content that he and I said everything that needed to be said between us. There was nothing left to settle, explain, justify, defend, or forgive. We just had fun together.
For most of my life I saw my Mom as the biggest influence on my life. I followed her structured life, her love for reading, her search for quiet and solitude, her temperament, and her personality.
I saw music and humor as coming from my Dad, but little else. However, the more I’ve listened to stories and comments from friends over the past weeks, I’ve realized Dad’s significant imprint on my life. Even though we were very different men, I am grateful for what I have of my father in me.
I have been blessed in the best way possible: both my parents loved me, were proud of me, and believed in me, every day of my life. My mom bragged about me even when she was living in the Alzheimer’s Unit. Even when I wasn’t sure she remembered my name, her eyes would light up every time I came close to her. And my Dad continued to tell stories about me to his friends all the way to the end. I know this because those stories have been coming back to me lately from those very same people.
I realize maybe that wasn’t your life. Maybe you never had that sort of relationship with your parents, or with any of your family.
If that’s your story, I’m truly sorry. You cannot change the past, but you can change the future. You can give your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and generations you will never meet a new story to tell. You can change your family’s future by deciding to love unconditionally, respect unconditionally, and believe unconditionally.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32