As many of you know, my father passed away on May 17. He had a rapidly degenerative condition known as Dementia with Lewy Bodies (or Lewy Body Dementia or LBD, depending on who you talk with). He arrived at Sunshine Care just a few days over 2 years before he died, and for most of that time he was unable to speak (at first clearly and then at all), walk, bathe or feed himself or pretty much anything we take for granted every day. I say that because I don't want what I am about to say to sound any way but how I mean it: I am so very grateful that he no longer has to live like that.
When we knew the end was near, I started to gather my thoughts about Dad. The last few years were all about making sure he remained as healthy and well-cared for as possible, and that combined with my own everyday life left little time to reflect. In the last week, though, sitting by his bedside there was little to do but reflect on the impact he had on my life. I distilled all the things I could think of that he taught me by example into a list of life lessons. These are the things I do without thinking because it is what I learned as a child and honed through repetition as an adult. Some of these are things taught by both Mom and Dad, but at the end of the day right now I am focused on my Dad.
One thing I want to clear up: my Dad was no saint. There were times he broke these rules and many others, but he always came back to the basic thoughts here. He did his best to live a good life and to make sure that I had the tools to do so myself. It has taken me nearly 2 months to write this - not because it was hard to find the lessons, but because it was hard to limit the list. So, here are the things my Dad taught me, as filtered through my own voice.
Don't shit where you eat, metaphorically speaking. My home is my castle, my refuge from everything outside its walls, and my family is a part of that. Whatever I do, I have to weigh my actions against the impact they will have on my home and family. Many people take the meaning of this phrase as a homily about avoiding office romances, but it goes way beyond that into not jeopardizing the things which are most important in life - and if that isn't my family and home, then maybe my priorities are screwed up.
Make my own opportunities. Most doors in life are closed, and if I want to get in I better learn to knock in such a way that the people on the inside want to know who is outside. And I should do it like I am playing the drums.
Give generously but not foolishly. Give all that I can without expectation of return. Forgive those who squandered my gifts, but carefully consider before continuing to give.
If I like or want something because I think other people will, then it is a sure bet that no one will including me. Don't apologize for what I like but don't expect anyone else to like it. Revel in it when they do.
Always say "thanks" regardless of the effort expended. Gratitude is never out of style or place. No need to be profuse, but being thankful is a necessity.
Being happy doesn't mean I don't have any problems. It does mean I have found a way to live with them. I don't have to solve every problem, just the important ones regardless of size.
Do what I say I will even with the smallest of promises because there may be someone relying on me. And I may not know that. If I start something, I should complete it and then follow up.
Always assume Mom or Dad are listening. They generally are, even when I am 50-something years old.
If there is a genuine reason to pay someone a compliment, I should make their day and tell them.
Every time I get wounded, I get a scar - and with every scar there is a story which ends with the phrase "and I survived." Embrace my mistakes because they make me stronger and better. Learn from my mistakes to avoid additional scarring. Don't love my mistakes because I might be tempted to live my life there.
Thanks, Dad. I love you.