Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Human Embodiment of Gratitude by Barbara Quinn

Growing up, my father used to tell me, “We’re all going the same place so you might as well enjoy the ride.” A little over a year ago he passed away at the age of 86 from a rare type of bile duct cancer. He did enjoy the ride.

My father worked hard, but always came to important functions. We took family vacations, ate dinner together every night, and he spent time with me, talking and being genuinely interested in my activities. He had boundless curiosity, and a ready smile. In college he was an usher at the Metropolitan Opera . He also was a Yankees fan. Now, I love opera and the Yanks, and I strive to enjoy the ride.

Till his last day, he joked around and kidded with us. His spirit was an inspiration, not just to me and my family, but to all who came in contact with him.

I was with him when he passed away. Death is not an easy thing to witness, and certainly is even more difficult to go through. But my Dad, the WW2 vet, soldiered on with incredible courage while I trembled by his side. I was alone with him when the priest came to give him the last sacrament. My Dad was religious, and I knew this would be a comfort, but he hadn’t said a word or opened his eyes for hours, and I wasn’t sure how aware he was. The priest gave him the sacrament and then to my surprise my father spoke.

He said, “Thank you.”

The priest’s eyes met mine. He asked, “Did you hear that?” I did. Oh, I did.

I tried to pull my hand away from my Dad’s for a second to wipe my eyes, but he squeezed it, signaling that I should not let go. I held on tightly. The rest of my family arrived and though my Dad didn’t speak again, we spoke to him, telling him how much we loved him, and that it was ok for him to leave. A few painful hours later, Dad drew his last breath.

I’m grateful to my Dad for so much. While he was alive he showed me the way, showed me how to live. And in death, he also showed the way, leading by example. It’s something to strive for, this being able to utter the words, “Thank you,” as your last. Can there be a finer example of gratitude?

8 comments:

Angie Ledbetter said...

You brought a tear. What a fine tribute to a fine man. I'm glad you had him for a father and example.

Barbara Quinn said...

Thanks, Angie. He was a sweet and funny guy. It's great to have those good memories. And now I must follow tradition and have lots of fun making new good memories!

Trish Ryan said...

That's really beautiful. Thanks so much for such a heartbreaking post!

Barbara Quinn said...

Thanks for reading and commenting, Trish.It's nice to know I connected with you.

Kathryn Magendie said...

My god, what a powerful post!

I have witnessed dying once - my beloved mother in law...Roger's mother Annabelle Magendie. I loved her and I held her hand that morning, feeling her pulse slow, then quicken-as if she saw something or felt something exciting or wonderful - then it slowed...slowed...stopped. It was beautiful - even if it was sad and horrid and grief-filled...something divine and mysterious about it, too.

Thank you for this post.

Barbara Quinn said...

Ah, your mother-in-law was lucky to have you by her side.Times like these do have a way of making us stronger in spite of the pain.
Hugs..

Nannette Croce said...

This reminds me very much of when my uncle passed away, as you know, just months before your Dad.He maintained his humor and gregarious nature to the end. I think one of the best lessons a parent/elder relative can teach is how to die with dignity and a light heart. Perhaps for WWII vets, of which my uncle was one also, those years they saw so many robbed of were indeed a gift to be cherished and used well.

Barbara Quinn said...

Nannette,
That bravery is humbling, isn't it? We're lucky to have experience it.

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