It was about this time of year when I saw my father for the last time.
He was 93 years old at the time, and Alzheimer's had taken away most of his tremendous capacity and capability. During the last few years of his life, I rewrote his obituary three times. Each time we thought something was going to take him from us — pneumonia, diabetes or a fellow care center resident with a surprisingly effective right hook — he rallied. If Dad was the Titanic, he would have taken on water after he hit that iceberg, but somehow he still would have managed to limp into port.
Smiling sweetly, knot by waterlogged knot.
But as Easter approached that year, it became clear the iceberg was finally going to win. Experts at the care center where he was staying told us they had seen this scenario before, and the outcome was always the same. They gave him a week or two, which meant I had just enough time to make the 700-mile trip to see him and to say ...
What do you say at such a time? “I love you, Dad.” Well, of course — that’s a given. “You’ve made a profound difference in my life.” Certainly. “We’re all going to miss you.” Absolutely. “Thank you.” Yes — for a thousand different things.
Even though I doubted he would hear or understand anything I had to say, I intended to tell him all those things and more. But as I was driving to California that Easter weekend, I decided there was one thing I wasn’t going to tell him — especially on Easter weekend.
I wasn’t going to tell him “goodbye.”
Sure, I understood I wasn’t going to see him again after that visit. And I was aware of what a wonderful opportunity it would be to say my goodbyes, since death so often comes suddenly, without any warning or time to prepare. How many people would give anything for the chance to say a final “goodbye” to a loved one?
But if there was anything that being raised, loved, nurtured and instructed by my father had taught me, it was this: Life goes on.
And not just in the “stuff happens,” “it is what it is,” “oblahdee-oblahdah” sense of the phrase. Sure, Dad was a big believer in the doctrine of moving on. It’s what saw him through a promising athletic career that was thwarted by the Great Depression, through two years of separation from his wife and five children during World War II, and through decades of business disappointments, financial struggles and family frustrations. His positive, forward-looking nature wouldn’t allow him to dwell on past pains and failures. He was all about the next opportunity, the next big challenge, the next great adventure.
But more than just moving on through the vicissitudes of mortality, Dad believed that because of the great and wondrous events that occurred on the first Easter some 2,000 years ago, life truly does go on. He believed that death is not an end, and that families are forever. These beliefs — deeply held and passionately cherished — brought meaning and purpose to his life, and they brought faith, hope, confidence and security to his death.
That’s why I chose not to say a final “goodbye” to Dad when I visited him that Easter weekend. It just wouldn’t be appropriate because neither he nor I believed that it was a final “goodbye.” Instead, when I left him for the last time, I said the same thing I always said whenever I left him: “I’ll see you again, Dad.”
Because I will. I know I will.
Thanks to Easter, life goes on.
To read more by Joseph B. Walker, visit josephbwalker.com. Twitter: JoeWalkerSr