If I were to die tonight, I would die confident knowing that the people in my life know how I feel about them. I would die knowing that the people in my life could tell me anything no matter how painful and that I would still love them.
I would die secure in the knowledge that I have left nothing unsaid to the people I love. They know who they are and that I love them deeply. They would know, because I have said and because I have behaved in a manner demonstrative of my feelings, how I felt about them.
It is my hope that they have told me what they have to tell me, but if they haven’t that it would be okay. They would know that I would accept whatever they had to say to me. I would die confident that the people I love knew I loved them and that I knew they loved me.
My father died two years ago. He was the bravest person I’ve ever known, and had the most courage of anyone I’ve yet to meet. He accepted that refusing the treatment he had been receiving was a certain sentence of death, but that accepting treatment was only prolonging the inevitable.
I learned from him that life and time is a fleeting thing, and that in the enormity of time, our own lives are but a minuscule fraction of existence. I learned that there is a great integrity to acceptance and that having that integrity is sometimes worth accepting the end, no matter how hard it may be for those we leave behind, because after all the sadness of a passing loved one is about the people that person leaves behind, and not about the person who has passed on.
We in Western society revere the ceremonies of death. We take the opportunity to say our final farewells and to let the families of those who have passed have our sympathy for their pain. In the end, though, these are ceremonies for the living – those who have been left behind.
Our loved ones may have passed in honor or disgrace. The manner of their passing matters only in as much as it demonstrates how they have lived, but the feelings left behind are testament to their lives. I mourned my father’s passing, not because he had come to the end of a life, but because I felt I hadn’t done what I needed to do for him. I felt as though I let him down. I was not angry that he had left, I was angry that I hadn’t demonstrated to him that I loved him. I did my best in death to demonstrate that – I bought him the first new suit he had worn in thirty years and he was given the honor the United States of America grants its veterans. The sadness I felt was about my shortcomings, not his. Mourning is an important ritual of passing, but it is for us – the living.
My father taught me the dignity of death, and as a final lesson one person can teach another, it is probably the greatest gift one can give. He was aged and sick, I was middle aged. His final lesson to me was that there is a dignity in accepting death and to ensuring ones loved ones knew that their lives were important to those who have passed.
I’ve come to accept that human beings don’t always behave in ways that demonstrate their feelings for another, but that the majority of time our behavior bears out our emotions. My father knew I loved him. I knew that my father loved me. Only toward the end of his life did I make it a point to express that, but he didn’t need those words – I did, but he accepted them and returned them. He died that afternoon in July knowing that he was loved and that he had given those he had loved everything he could have possibly given them, even if it was never really returned to him in the manner it should have been…and perhaps that going forward the people he loved would return it in a manner it should be for those they loved.
I have given my children everything I could give them. They know I love them and I behave in ways which demonstrate this over and above their current comprehension. I have given them a foundation on which to grow and on which to demonstrate their own love to those important people in their lives. It doesn’t matter if the people in my life believe that they’ve demonstrated to me that they love me, what matters to me is that they know that I love them.
I give back to my father not by my feeling guilty of not having done the right things for him during his life, but by doing the right things for my loved ones and by making it alright to demonstrate their love. I miss my dad every day and I remain sorry that I didn’t make more of an effort to do those things I think he deserved. I know, though, that his love for me was unconditional and that he wanted only that I show my children that I love them.
If I were to die tonight, I would die secure in the knowledge that I have demonstrated to my family that I love them and that I have given them the tools to demonstrate to those in their lives that they’re loved.
Dad, there are so many things I would do differently if I had a second chance, but life is not a dress rehearsal. We don’t often get second chances in life and as such we’re required to make the most of every chance we have. You gave me what I needed to show others in my life that love and emotion are not just words but deeds. You didn’t always say you loved me, but everything you did demonstrated it. If I were to die tonight, I would accept that the people in my life my not have always demonstrated they love me well enough, but that they have learned that it is important to do so – even if that lesson is learned in my passing.
If I were to die tonight, I could die knowing that I’ve demonstrated to those I love how to demonstrate love to those whom they love.