Parenting Guru: What My Father Taught Me About Living and Dying

I vividly remember the last days of my father's life. What I remember most was wheeling him to an open window. He loved feeling the cool breeze as it swept across his frail body. The once stout and robust man who walked so fast I could barely maintain an even pace was now too weak to stand. He was completely bed ridden in the last months of his life. Even though his body was giving in, his mind was as sharp as ever.

With Father's Day just around the corner, it always gives me pause to reflect on this man, my father. While I know he loved my brothers, sister and me deeply he was never very demonstrative. We'd have the awkward hug and pat on the head, but he was not the type of father to say "I love you" out loud. In my later years, after my siblings and I had long since married and had moved away, my dad would send us letters that always ended, "Love, Dad." He wrote frequently. In his letters, he reflected a lot about his life lessons. I cherish that he hand wrote so many letters, which I keep safe in my wedding chest to hand to my children someday. In his letters, he taught me about how to live a grateful life:

  • Live with integrity and strong values. Even if that means going against the majority, you will ultimately never regret a life of truthfulness.
  • Always be punctual. My dad was never late. Typically, he was always a few minutes early and that was fully ingrained in me from a young age. My kids now have that trait even though their friends are always late.
  • Wash your hands. Maybe my dad had a touch of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). But he never failed to tell my siblings and me to clean up before dinner. Then it became the grandkids. "Wash your hands," he would often say. Simple to do and yet it may have spared numerous illnesses in our family. My kids rarely had a sick day from school.
  • Look people in the eyes when you talk to them. My dad was a great orator. He loved to talk. He was an attorney by night (night court judge) and a small business owner by day. I always remember him looking everyone solidly in the eyes whenever he spoke. I feel he did this to show not only them, but his children, that confidence is conveyed in subtle ways.
  • Live a life of gratitude: My dad always taught us to be grateful for what we had. As a young child, I saw him give an offering at church every Sunday. His example taught me that tithing was a way of life. Now, my children each have a favorite charity they give a part of their hard-earned money to which serves to underscore all that they are grateful for.

Dying with Grace and Dignity

In the last six months of my dad's life, he was always calm and patient. He never raised his voice even to the caregivers who could be rough with lifting or moving him. Although my father was in and out of hospitals, we chose to keep him at home where family could surround him.

When the time was near, he would drift in and out of deep sleep. But a few days before he died, he had a sudden burst of energy. Many hospice and palliative care workers have seen this 'burst of energy' effect in the last 48-hours of a person's life.

We found him kneeling next to his bed. We were shocked that he was out of bed, but he could not muster the energy to stand up. After we moved him back to his bed, he directed my mom to get all of the binders of information he had prepared. He wanted to check one last time that their finances were in order and that my mom knew where all his important information was. In that moment I observed a man who even in his last hours was thinking about the woman he had been married to for over 50 years. He wanted to know that she would be okay. That she was safe. That she was loved.

My dad may not have been very demonstrative; he didn't play tag or run around the neighborhood with me. But he fully loved my siblings and me, and he displayed unwavering love to the woman who he chose to create a family. And so on this Father's Day and every Father's Day, I am so grateful.

Tina Case is a Yahoo! Shine Parenting Guru. When she's not writing here she can be found writing for her own blogs Moms Who Click and Parent Grapevine. She is also an established photographer in the San Francisco-Bay area.