I would like to share a few thoughts on my Dad’s passing, which was three years ago today. I don’t mean for this to be political, though I realize readers may take political implications away from it. That is not my purpose.
I had intended to write a book about his death – and about the valuable lessons he taught to me during that time. Lessons about love, God, suffering, courage, cynicism, forgiveness, empathy, living for others, gratitude, mortality, priorities, and dignity, among other things. I do not know if I would have tried to publish it. But books take longer than I realized to write, so instead I will just offer a reflection.
Dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on March 25, 2014. His condition deteriorated rapidly, and he died a mere fifteen days later. Dad had always served as my role model – the person I wanted to emulate in so many ways; watching him die was very hard.
During those last couple of weeks, there were some amazing moments, including a hospital room baptism of my daughter, and Dad and me and my brothers watching March Madness with him in the room. There were lots of prayers and all-nighters. It all brought home the terrible truth about the inextricable relationship of love and pain, at least in this life. That is, if we love, we will experience the pain of losing that love (in a sense), and the more we love, the more pain there will be (and it reinforced how much the price of love is still worth it, regardless of the terrible cost).
Dad suffered much, and those who loved him also suffered much because of that. But his death was anything but lacking in dignity. That would be inaccurate and a dishonor to the tremendous courage he displayed, and the love he showed at the end of his earthly life. And for love to win through terrible pain and suffering struck me as almost the opposite of lacking in dignity. Among all those lessons I took away, that was a key one – suffering does not preclude dignity, and with it comes an opportunity.
The way we are coming to define dignity as it relates to death saddens me, and it is hard for me to not connect Dad’s death and Christ’s Passion, especially at this time of year. As a Christian, I cannot imagine a higher dignity than when we try to imitate the Savior, and follow on the Road that Christ walked – and that Road ultimately leads to Calvary. It is worth noting that Christ did not want Calvary (“Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will”). Suffering is not a good. But Dad taught me, by his example, that good can be brought out of it. And that our darkest hours can be the greatest opportunities for virtue. Dad taught me this and much more during those last horrid weeks. Horrid weeks which I am utterly grateful to have had with him.
Dad spent his final days gradually forced to relinquish control over everything – and at times, he suffered. But looking for the purpose in his suffering, he asked that God use it for His purposes. On Dad’s own Road to Calvary, he was surrounded by those who loved him dearly, helping to carry his cross. Such was a very good man’s death with dignity.