Monday, March 30, 2015
Appreciating the Small Moments
"I don't want to leave you."
Those were the last words I heard my father say to my mother. I think about them often and marvel that, even after 64 years of marriage, it still wasn't enough and the part of dying that bothered my father the most was leaving my mother behind.
Like many SOLSC writers, as the challenge winds down to its final days, I have been reflecting on what the experience has meant to me. One of the greatest gifts has been learning to look at the small moments of each day and recognize the stories and life lessons that lie within. I have come to realize that it is a gift that my parents always owned. My mother has an amazing memory and can recount stories of events that happened decades ago, evidence that she always has been smart enough to appreciate life as it unfolds. Maybe this was part of the reason neither of my parents ever wanted much; buying presents for them has been a difficult task over the years as there really was very little that they either wanted or needed. They lived simple lives, yet their life together was rich and meaningful. They paid attention to those small moments, cherished them for the incredible gifts they really were, and quietly tucked them away in their memories as they built a life worth living.
Toward the end of my dad's life, it couldn't have been easy for him to get up every morning and make his way through the day. His emphysema and the ever-present tube that tethered him to his oxygen machine made simple chores, such as talking and eating, excruciatingly difficult. But every day, he got up and did it anyway. I have come to the conclusion that it was love, pure and simple, that gave him the strength to keep going. Love for my mom and love for the rest of the family. A couple of years ago, Dad was diagnosed with skin cancer. The doctor bluntly told him that he didn't need to have it removed; the emphysema was sure to kill him before the cancer would. Even though he didn't need to do it, even though it required an extreme amount of effort to get to the doctor's office, and even though leaving the house caused my dad great anxiety, he had it removed. I was both relieved and proud of my dad for making that decision. I'm not sure why he did it, we never talked about his motives, but I saw this bold move as my dad's testimony to how much he still had to live for. No matter what, no matter how difficult or how painful it might be, he chose life. Neither fame nor fortune can provide the kind of power needed to keep going when it would be so much easier to give up; only love can do that.
My dad chose life right up until the moment last July when his body finally said, "Enough," and he took his last breath. Although I would have given anything to stop the end from coming, I am grateful that my dad died not in the sterile, impersonal confines of a hospital but at home. Home. Where he and my mom had lived and loved for over 50 years. Where they raised their five children and welcomed their 11 grandchildren. Where they argued and laughed and danced and cried and worried and hoped and held on to each other through it all. Much of the family was there, and I have often thought about how much like any typical family gathering it was. The house was filled with the sounds that had brought my dad happiness so many times over the years, the sounds of his family gathered near. It was a fitting ending to a life well-lived.
Although I am thankful to have had this chance to share my writing, to connect with others, and to stretch myself as a writer, I am most thankful for the reminder it has given me that a life of greatness is built of the small moments that happen every day. It is within these precious slices that the true beauty and meaning of life can be found.