Ross H. EasleyDad Died Well
by Dale H. Easley
October 2, 1995

Dad died well. It has been over 15 years since he died, and now I can think about him without getting teary-eyed. I doubt that I think of him less, just differently. I notice less my sense of loss and recall more the reasons for that sense of loss. I wish that he could be here to meet my wife, to work with around the house, to walk with in the evenings. I miss his friendship and guidance. I miss his love.

Dad's love was clearest as he died. Dad was diagnosed in November, 1979, with leukemia. Mom came to where I was in college to tell me, a night that stands out in my memory like the first crack of lightning in a storm. A couple of days after the diagnosis, my father entered the hospital, never to leave alive. Yet in the 45 days he was in the hospital, he was fully alive to the needs and pain of his family.

My mom is a fine maker of hand crafts. Quilts, baskets, needlepoint, sewing, etc., Mom excels at producing. One of her wishes before Dad got sick was for a wooden trunk in which to store some of her work. Though Dad was going through chemotherapy for the second unsuccessful time, he remembered Mom's wish. With the help of a friend, he arranged for an old wooden trunk to be refurbished and brought to a neighbor's house. From there, my future brother-in-law and I snuck it into the house while Mom was in the shower.

On Christmas morning our family had always gathered in the basement by the fireplace. Each year we would hang our stockings on the mantle and set up the tree in the corner. Dad would go downstairs first and start a fire in the fireplace. Once the fire had knocked the chill off, the rest of us went down to see what Santa had brought. Dad loved watching our faces as we first caught sight of our stockings and presents.

But that year Dad wasn't with us. At least not physically. After we had finished unwrapping all the presents, we told Mom that there was one more for her. When we brought the trunk out from in hiding, Mom lost it. She had kept dry eyes all morning, but this was too much. Later when she was telling Dad about the morning, she said he didn't appear satisfied, but kept asking questions until she admitted to him that she broke down and cried.

During the time Dad was in the hospital, my visits with him seldom focused on his illness, perhaps only during the first visit and when test results showed chemotherapy had failed the first time. Otherwise, Dad guided our conversations to how school was going, how our choir's Christmas concert turned out, exams, plans for the spring semester, etc. He didn't want his illness to interfere with my education. After all, Dad started saving from the time I was born for me to go to college. He had often told me of the limits on his career advancement because of his lack of a college education, and he wanted better for me. Since then I have encountered people with parents who have the attitude, ``If it was good enough for me, it's good enough for you.'' I can no more imagine Dad saying that than his cussing in church. He had come of age in the Depression, and he was willing to work and save and work some more so that his family could have better than he had growing up.

And it wasn't just his family he loved. The nurses in the hospital all got to know Dad, soon coming in to talk to him about their lives, to relate the joys such as an engagement, and to share the grief. Mom tells of an incident near the end when Dad was hooked to IV's and barely able to move: A nurse came in to change his IV, and Dad reached up with his toe to tickle her butt. Nowadays that would probably generate screams of sexual harassment, but because Dad had given of himself in getting to know the nurses in the preceding weeks, it was instead a way of saying, ``I see that you're there, and even though I'm hurting, I acknowledge you and your wonderful, attractive humanity. You are more than a paid caretaker---You're someone that I care about.''

No, Dad didn't always express himself in the ways that might meet today's standards of behavior. But what he did say, he believed, and he committed himself to. I remember watching with him a debate on 60 Minutes about someone who had leaked the content of a secret hearing in Congress. The debate centered on whether the nation's need to know outweighed the leaker's promise not to talk. There was no debate for my Dad. "He gave his word." End of discussion. It was the same with marriage. He gave my Mom his word that he would always love her, and there was never any doubt in our household that he kept that promise. I simply can't relate to my friends' stories of growing up in homes where parents didn't love each other, much less where they divorced. My Dad gave his word. End of discussion.

Since my father died, my life has never felt as certain. I knew he loved me and that I could depend on him no matter what. He knew what his life was about, and he suffered no existential crises nor searches for meaning. Even when he was lying in bed wasting away, I saw no evidence of despair. Instead, I saw the courage to rise above his suffering and focus instead on the people around him, to minister to their needs. I feel totally inadequate to living up to the standard he set. Yet I have hope because his standard was so beautifully simple: "Love people, especially your family, and keep your word."

File translated from T E X by T T H, version 2.72.
On 24 Jul 2000, 10:43.