26 February 2008

The lifelong lesson

I was listening to Dr. Ray today on Relevant Radio. He started his show off by talking about a professor who appeared on a popular afternoon talk show (he declined to mention which one, but it's obvious). The topic of the show was "The Last Lecture," because this professor was terminally ill with cancer and he was giving his students what was to be his last lecture.

It's usually pretty easy to stay focused on what Dr. Ray talks about since he is both funny and insightful. Practical and sensible. However, it was moments later when I realized I hadn't been paying any attention to what Dr. Ray was talking about. Instead, I had been thinking of my own parents who both passed away from cancer and how I never got that last lecture.

Initially, I was kind of surprised that neither parent, in the final moments of their lives, had sought to impart some sage advice, to instruct or admonish, or even to encourage. It was a very fleeting thought before I saw very clearly that their entire lives had been a lesson. I had been left with an entire body of work, not just a death bed swan song.

While I was very close to both of my parents, I was especially close to my father who outlived my mother by twelve years. He was one of the wisest men I have ever known and I'm amazed at how much I learned from him that was solely by his example. We shared lively conversations on a wide variety of topics. In fact, it makes me smile to think our last conversation was about the unlikely subject of exothermic and endothermic reactions. My father knew my favorite old movie actor was the suave Cary Grant and that I detest Jello.

My father taught me to keep trying. God wanted me to be perfect, but didn't set the bar so high that I had to be perfect, just sincerely make an effort. It is the relationship I had with my father that I follow in trying to draw closer to God. I loved my father, trusted him and would do whatever he asked of me. Now, when God asks me to do things I would rather not, I try to listen to Him as I would my earthly father.

My mother had struggled with cancer for ten or so years. When she was terminally ill, I visited her late one night in the hospital after work and brought a notebook with me to write down her last wishes. She didn't have much to say. There was an item she wanted one of my aunt's to have and she told me she wanted me to have the German beer stein in our hutch. I hadn't known, but she recounted to me how she, my predominately Irish mother, used to play the German beer-drinking song from my predominately German father's stein to get me to sleep while I was in my crib. She told me she would miss not seeing my wedding, but there were no regrets or words of wisdom. She had taught me those things years and years before. To mention them now would be out of place and almost trivialize all those years of parenting.

My father, too, had no words of wisdom. He merely said that he was proud of me and that the last year we had spent in each other's company (I had moved back to MN from Seattle) was the happiest time of his life. That struck me as a bit odd until I had my own children and started to understand what he was getting at.

While listening to Dr. Ray, I was glad I hadn't been left with words on a video telling me to be kind to others and to follow my dreams. I had been blessed, very blessed, with two parents who instructed me by their words and deeds on how to live your life instead of trying to fix it all on your death bed.


ArchAngel's Advocate said...

Dawn Eden has both the Oprah snippet & a link to the original full (1.5 hour) presentation. The full presentation comes off better as the Oprah segment comes off glib (probably due to the time restraints).

Lisa said...

Beautiful story-thanks for sharing it.

Anonymous said...

They loved you so much--I can feel their love in your writing--beautiful--you have been truly blessed. I love your mom and dad--I meet them through you--lovely.

swissmiss said...

Thanks for the link. I wasn't implying that the professor was glib since I didn't see Oprah's show...just that I was initially suprised I didn't get a "Last Lecture" from either parent.

Lisa and Tara:
Thanks for the comments. I just pray I raise my kids half as well. Too had my parents passed away before they saw their grandkids and too bad my children missed out on one set of great grandparents.

Mairin :o) said...

Your post is a lovely reflection on you and your parents. You were very fortunate to have them.