I've been thinking a lot about my Dad lately. My Mom came to stay with me last weekend while Barbie was in Utah and we had an opportunity to reminisce about him. My Dad died almost four years ago. When we moved back to California he was ill, but I thought we would have more time with him. It was only three months later when he passed away. My Dad died of Multiple Myeloma, which is interesting in that it is a cancer of the same cell-type that causes Amyloidosis. However, they are not related or of a heritable type.
California state law requires that all physicians take 12 hours of CME in end-of-life studies and palliative care. When I did my training, the course director asked all of us how we would like to die. Most people wanted a quick and painless death after a long and useful life. Unfortunately, only 10% die that way. When she asked, "Who would like to die of cancer?" I was the only person who raised his hand. She was puzzled and asked why. I was remembering my Dad and thought to myself, 'He died well' He was lucid and in control until the end. I explained this and she agreed. The rest of the class was consigned to die like most people do, after a long chronic illness takes it's toll over many years. This may seem like a strange discussion, but it is the reality that we will all come to.
When I began work at Kaiser, I looked at my Dad's x-rays and was shocked to see how much the cancer had invaded his entire skeleton. I thought, "He must be in terrible pain." And yet, he never complained. Even then, his focus was not on himself. The center of his life was always on his family. He never spent one night in the hospital. He died quietly at home surrounded by his family. Two days prior, I spoke to him and promised him that we would take care of Mom. The last words he ever said to me were "Thank You".
My parents gave me two great gifts in my lifetime. First was a strong work ethic coupled with the value of personal responsibility. The second was that they trusted me to make my own decisions, which included the risk of failing. For a parent, this is a hard balance to reach.
In my years counseling with and observing parents, I have found that many fall into the two extremes of being too rigid or too lenient. They either micromanage their children's everyday activities, allowing them controlled successes, but without real risk, or they aim to be just their friend who would never impose on their personal freedom. Both approaches are fraught with problems and based in fear. The middle ground is harder to maintain. Give them guidelines to live by, supported by example, and then let them decide, without subtle threat or coercion.
This gift from my parents was so valuable to me, that even when I left home, I would not do anything to break their trust. No child feels freer than when they are trusted by their parents.
As I spoke to my Mom about this, I realized something I had not noticed before. My parents have nine children and all of us have chosen to be productive and honorable in our lives. What I find even more interesting is that this has carried on into the next generation. All of my parent's 34 grandchildren continue to follow this pattern. I think of Barbie's and mine own children and how they have always chosen well. They have always brought us only joy.
It is no accident that I was born of noble parents. But with every true gift comes responsibility.
I have been given a 'second lease' on life. The memory of my father reminds me that I must continue in this life, as before, and never do anything that would lose the trust of my parents; the most valuable gift I ever got from them.