Home > 2011 Posts, About Dave > A Son’s Grief Tempered

A Son’s Grief Tempered

Dad was the best man I ever met: tough, brave, wise, calm and loving in the most manly way. He had few faults, a bounty of virtues and died at 79 of lung cancer. Two packs a day of unfiltered Camels for more than 60 years will do that to most anyone.

It happens to us all

During our time together in his final months, Dad taught me many great lessons. One of the most important was how to temper my grief.

He had learned the bad news in May and passed on in November. Because he’d seen too many of his friends waste their last days in a futile battle against the inevitable, Dad refused radiation and chemo. Instead, he resolved to make the best use he could of the time he had.

I was deeply shaken by the thought of losing him. And especially so because I felt guilty about my Mom, one of the two best women I’ve ever met. She had died 20 years before. Back then, I’d been a young officer deployed half a world away. The brief emergency leave came too late, was far too short, and was made much worse by her terrible pain. Even though she was dying, her doctors refused to treat her with ‘addicting pain killers’. Worthless bastards!

So, with Mom’s death on my mind and renewed feelings of guilt eating at my heart, I asked Dad how he was feeling.

Dad loved to ride

“Dave, I’m 79. I never expected to live through D-Day. And I sure didn’t expect to get off that battlefield in Belgium where I lost my leg. But, somehow it happened. Then, I met your mother, and I never expected or wanted to outlive her. But the damn breast cancer took her before she turned 60. That knocked me down for a long time. Even so, every minute of the past 50 years has been a gift from God. Her, you, your brother, your families. So many gifts. Almost no one gets that much from life.”

Feeling sorry for myself – after all, Dad’s cancer was all about me, wasn’t it? – I said, “But, we want you around much longer!”

With a slow shake of his head and a steady gaze, Dad told me, “No, Dave. We all get shot out of the saddle sometime. And I’ve been cheating the shooter for 50 years. Long enough to be happier than I ever deserved. Long enough to do and see things I never dreamed of.

“It’s natural Dave. And when the time comes, the best any of us can hope for is to go quick and clean. Not like your poor Mom.”

Dad overcame hardships I can't imagine

That was the heart of our first talk as Dad began traveling on the road to see Mom again. He had been through more hardship than I would ever be able to imagine, but he’d also spent his life appreciating what he was given, not regretting what he had lost or what it had cost him. In just a few words, he’d taught me to do the same, and to temper my grief at his passing. What a wonderful gift from father to son that was. It made our last few months together an even more priceless treasure.

“We all get shot out of the saddle sometime.” It’s about how you ride, not the final fall. And Dad was a hell of a horseman.

When the time came, the wall of his lung ruptured. He was gone two minutes later, and 20 years to the day after Mom died.

  1. March 21, 2011 at 7:07 am

    Thanks for sharing this Dad. We love you very much and are grateful of the time we had with Grandpa Jim.

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