The Paint on the Ladder

There is an old Hebrew blessing, “May you have long days.” Some of us are blessed with long lives, some not. But we can all have long days. A long day is a one full of meaning, one spent doing good, enjoying it for all God made it to be, for finding and fulfilling one’s individual purpose.

In the days before my dad passed away two weeks ago, there was a crushing question on my heart. As I watched him simultaneously joking and laughing while struggling to breathe through the lung cancer we didn’t yet know he had, I wondered, “why do we fight for a long life here? What is the point, ultimately, if our final destination is so wonderful?” This wasn’t out of anger; it was actually out of a peace that I couldn’t comprehend. On the day he died, his doctor told us he had stage 4 lung cancer and that my sister and I would be largely responsible for decisions. Dialysis? If it worked, what to do about the  congestive heart failure, bone marrow and liver failure that were trying to take his life. Would he ever be able to tolerate chemo? Would it make a difference? Would he play his beloved golf again?  While I’m in my 30s, I stood there like a child praying that his brother and sisters from Toledo would arrive quickly to make a decision I didn’t feel qualified to make.

Turns out, my dad, who had some of his happiest moments in the freedom of the golf course, made the decision for everyone 20 minutes later when he simply took his last breath. He decided on quality over quantity of days. There was no more fighting for air. He reached upwards, laid back, fixed his eyes on his children, and son and daughter in law and left this earth. The dramatic CPR efforts which followed were marked more by peace than fear for us in that SICU. A surreal, yet precious experience knowing he was there when my sister and I came into the world and we were privileged to be there as he left. The circle of life, I suppose. And as our pastor told me at his bedside just after they pronounced his death,  the other side isn’t so far away—it’s just “right there.”

These last couple of weeks have been a blur for our family. The hustle and bustle of funeral preparations and out of town family are over; we have spent hours combing through his personal things, picking out mementos, selecting items to donate and sell. Waiting to complete these tasks is a luxury we don’t have; my sister owns his condo and she and my brother in law must give up their apartment move in at the end of the month.  A few days ago, as I was polishing the kitchen cabinets as the others were painting the living room, I caught myself in the reality of his passing, reflecting on the reality that, by the time we were finished, we would have erased every fingerprint he left on the place in the 10 years he’d lived there since my mother passed. Then, I went into the living room and stood beside the ladder Dawn was using to paint the ceiling. As the white ceiling paint dripped onto the metal, I noticed the drips of long-dry paint. These drippings represented the many of the colors of his lifetime on a ladder he’d owned for most of his adulthood. He used it to paint the first house he and my mother owned. The green drip was the color of my childhood bedroom; the blue, my sister’s. Mauve was the color of our living room when I was growing up. Later, he painted the kitchen sea foam. It occurred to me that the fingerprints, footprints and paint drippings linger after we are gone and continue to tell our stories.

We don’t cling to life here because we don’t think something wonderful awaits; we wish for long days because we have the opportunity to make them good. My dad lived only 67 years, 8 months, 23 days, and 12.5 hours, but he lived every one of them. We only live this lifetime once; don’t wait for tomorrow—make today a long day and drip some paint on the ladder.                        TLD                                                                                  dad golf

November 2012