This morning, I browned some ground turkey before getting ready for work, intent on getting a jumpstart on tonight’s dinner. I’m making a particular (very healthy) dish because I need to use a few ingredients before they ruin. While simple, I don’t make it often because it makes a lot. As I stood over the stove pushing the meat back and forth in the skillet, I remembered that the last time I made it, it was for Dad. Though I’d shared many meals with him over my lifetime, this one on April 15, 2013 was significant as it was the last.
Ironically, or perhaps poignantly, the first anniversary of his “lasts” comes during this year’s Holy Week, a time when people who share the Christian faith reflect on dying and, as importantly, what it means to live. With its deep and dramatic symbolism, Holy Thursday is perhaps my “favorite” religious observance of the year. The ways we consider forever during this time of year are unmatched by any other. Last Suppers and Last Words; watching a life, significant and well-lived, come full circle and evaluating what it means for our lives; grief and rejoicing; weighing regret against hope everlasting. For as much as I’m thinking of the Resurrection this week, I can’t help but also remember my dad’s journey towards the always when I contemplate these things.
This “last supper” he had at our house was also something of a “first” for a man and his oldest child, a pair that had never enjoyed an outwardly emotional relationship with each other. Quick with his temper and slow with his patience, he could be hard to know—it is something we had in common. But on April 15, 2013, he sat down at our table for dinner. He was especially talkative this night as we were discussing our desire for him to retire for good and focus his energies on his health and his golf game. His main concerns centered on his desire to leave us with “something” so he’d know we were “okay” when he was no longer around. In a very uncharacteristic moment for me, I said, “Dad, you provided a wonderful childhood. Your job meant time away from your family—but you did it so that we could have the world. You did enough. We don’t care about money; we just want you.” He told me he was proud of me and agreed to reduce his life insurance. Now, this doesn’t seem overly tender to outside observers, but a peacefulness spilled over his face and I realize now that the words had deeper meaning than either of us realized then. “I love you, toos” had always been the hallmark of our affection towards each other. We knew there was a deep love and concern present…but we didn’t have to say it. A few days later, he’d be admitted to the hospital for the final time, but on this night, we were laughing, happy and hopeful. I think, in some ways, those words were my “goodbye” to him.
For me, there are few images that better represent the fragility of life than the memory of him sitting in our kitchen that night, caught somewhere between the realization that things were different this time and the resistance to that life-altering permanence. This image of a dying man—while we didn’t know it—reminds me how quickly life can change and how every single moment must be lived and felt. This was the last time a shred of innocence seemed within reach for my sister and me—the last time the term “parent” was a thing of the present.
While my mother’s death certainly impacted me in every way imaginable, it was not until I saw my dad begin his final journey that I could understand the brevity that defines all of our journeys—long or short. We put off this or that until the timing is right. We hesitate to take chances. We refuse to apologize; we refuse to forgive. We ignore our families and ourselves. What if today is the beginning of our journey into eternity? What if this moment is the last time your life will be as it is right now? In a way, we’ve all already begun that journey—and we’ll never get this moment back.
I think about it.
I am 36 years old and I think about my death every day. That’s probably morbid. Okay, it’s definitely morbid.
It’s also inspiring.
Because I ask myself every day if it’s my last chance to become who I want to be, to leave the legacy I want to leave. Most of the time, I’m disappointed. So far, no day has been my last…but…
Someday, it will be.
Dad didn’t feel like dying that night or in the several days that followed. He said emphatically, “I want to get better.” He knew that life happened outside those hospital walls, and that’s where he wanted to be. I’ve spent the last year wishing he’d had the chance to be out there and live it. As we approach the first anniversary of his death, though, I understand that all our lives here started ending the moment they began. Be as tender as your heart will allow you to be with others—and then push it further. Be present with the people you love and let them be present with you. Be present with yourself rather than constantly looking for ways to avoid all of those things that make life worth living.
I know that someday will be the last day of my life; I’m going to enjoy the hell out of it for all the days he wanted and didn’t get.