Friday, December 6, 2013

My Dad's Last Words

Around the one year anniversary of my father's death, I was asked to give a brief talk titled "If these were my last words".  It was literally at the same event, one year earlier, that I learned that my dad was being hospitalized for sepsis -- a condition that would leave him hospitalized for all but a couple of his remaining days alive.  Several of my friends have recently lost their fathers.  This morning, I learned that one of my law school classmates lost his dad last month, who was, like my dad, a too-young 71 years old when he passed away.  His last words to his dad -- "I love you" -- were his way of "returning the favor" for an important time that his father had spoken the same words to him.  This story was so poignant and so closely echoed my own experience with last words.  I had largely decided to leave my dad's blog untouched, but in this case I feel that posting a copy of my remarks about last words is a fitting addition to my dad's blog:

5:00 a.m., a year ago, I was driving home early from Renaissance Weekend, not knowing for sure if my dad had died in the night.

The afternoon before I got a terrible call from my mom.  The chemo, Dad’s heading to the ICU, dad has sepsis, its bad she said. 

It was wrenching, but she asked me not to drive home until morning, she was going to be up all night, and if dad made it, he would need me to be awake to comfort him, hold his hand, advocate for him.

It was the hardest night of my life, a year ago in this hotel.  I have no idea how much worse it might have been without the caring , comfort, guidance and love that the family in this room gave me.  So thank you.

Driving home, I thought a lot about whether I might miss dad’s “last words”.

But I realized that my dad would speak no last words.  None of us speak our own last words.  Last words aren’t the sounds that escape with our last breath.  Our last words are spoken long after we die by the people whose lives we touched.

My words and my children’s words are shaped by dad’s love and example.

We don’t have the opportunity to pick our last words, because we aren’t the ones who speak them.  Those words are built of our deeds, our love, our example, our compassion.  We can’t change that legacy quickly.  There is no death bed fix.

My dad survived the night, but died two months later.  His voice did not die with him.

I leave you with this:  Our last words are the legacy of our lives, and while they aren’t always the ones we might want, they are always the ones we have earned.