My role model for how to live a life taught me through dying.
Dad lived with cancer for many years with the usual peaks and valleys you hear about. His mantra was “you make the best decision you can with the information you have at the time.” And the information was “you don’t have much more time.” So he decided to double-down on:
- Doing what you love. He gardened. He rode his bike while carrying a trash picker to clean up garbage along the way. He invented recipes and canoed. He sat in deer blinds, not to hunt, but to watch the beauty of nature in the quiet woods. He became a leader in environmental causes (even garnering a letter from Obama). He was a role model for excelling in the moment.
- Making others feel special. Dad was an unassuming member of Mensa and devoured knowledge. The doctors loved him for this since they felt in partnership with him. My favorite part of taking him to the doctor was the pride with which he introduced me. He was so proud of me, and I learned you’re invincible when someone makes you feel that way. He was a role model for making someone feel special.
- Talking about things. Dad made plans to die in the way he could best express himself: he made a list and assigned activities to my brother and me. I recall 51 to-do’s on the list–things he needed to get done to leave my mom as comfortable and as worry free as he possibly could. Change all the floodlight bulbs, replace the washing machine, fix the oven, install an alarm. I don’t know if a spouse ever loved as much as my dad loved my mom. Kind, adoring love. A balance of Philia and Pragma love if I knew Greek. He was a role model for respect in a relationship.
- Laughing. Dad and I would always sneak special belly-laughs. Once, my brother was in the shower and flipped open a shampoo cap with his bottom teeth. The motion created a suction, and he comes running out of the shower with 6-year-old panic and a shampoo bottle wagging off his bottom lip. Mom’s trying to calm the brother down and get him to lie still. Dad and I sneak off to have a private chuckle down the hallway en route to get the pliers. In the illness years, we’d still find private chuckles about uncomfortable things, like uncontrollable bowels while blackberry picking. Dad was a role model for finding the humor.
During the pandemic year, I am trying to make the best decisions I can with the information I have at this time. I am deciding to double-down on doing what I love, making others feel special, talking about things and laughing.