“Ann, come here. I am not going to make it. I have been waiting for you,” my dad told me with a sense of urgency. I had just returned from a two-day break from the hospital to spend time with my visiting son and to catch up on my sleep. On my way back to the hospital, I had been rehearsing different ways I might help my dad shift from an attitude of “getting better” to one of accepting his imminent death.
He didn’t need to hear my words; he had come to that realization on his own. He had awakened from a nap that morning and told my brother “I’m give out.” He had surrendered and accepted his ending with grace and ease.
Lesson: Never underestimate a person’s innate knowing.
Dad gave each of us – his wife, my brother, my sister, and me – his final instructions. He said everything that needed to be said. In fact, he had no incomplete relationships in his life, because he always said what needed to be said in a loving and kind way.
Lesson: Never leave a relationship incomplete.
Until a few days before, nearing his 85th birthday, Dad was still doing what he loved to do – buying and selling real estate, working with his clients so that everyone could come out a winner, and helping people succeed in life. He had some ongoing business matters that he asked my brother to complete for him.
Lesson: Live life fully, doing what you love to do the most, no matter how old you are.
My dad entered the hospital on May 20 for his second surgery in five months because he wanted to get through the surgeries, heal, and get on with his life. He was happy and fulfilled in his daily life and he had a lot more he wanted to do. In the fourteen days he was in the hospital, most of it in ICU, he worked to get well. At the same time, he expressed appreciation, interest, care, and love for every caregiver who entered his room. He learned about their lives. He showed his appreciation to the person who cleaned his room, the technicians who drew his blood and took his chest x-rays, the nurse and nurse assistants who changed duty every twelve hours, and the multitude of doctors who poked and prodded him. He never seemed frustrated that one more doctor wanted to feel his belly or a nurse wanted to give him one more shot. He accepted it all with gratitude, believing he was going to get better. He trusted everyone who worked on him. I saw how his caregivers were positively affected by his appreciation and interest.
Lesson: All people deserve to be seen, acknowledged, and validated for who they are. It makes a big difference to them when we do this.
My dad was a small businessman who helped people who could not get credit from the banks. He had a sense about whether a person had integrity, whether they were sincere in their desire to do good work. When he trusted you, all you needed was a handshake and your word, and the deal was done. For the most part, every person he trusted lived up to Dad’s expectations. Their business agreements remained a win-win for all parties.
Lesson: When you work from a place of integrity and trust, you foster that integrity and trust in others.
Dad died after three days in hospice with all of us, his closest family, encircling his bed. It was my first time to be with someone I loved at the end of life. As his breath shortened and his heartbeat slowed down to the final stop, his life force left his body. And yet he still lives on inside each of us.
Millions of people around the world look to the Dalai Lama for guidance and inspiration. We had my Dad. Thank you, Dad, for accepting and loving me for just the way I am, even though I stepped way outside the bounds of your understanding with many of my life decisions. If I can be half as accepting and loving as he demonstrated for us, I know the world will be a better place.