The beginning of life is much like the end. From the moment life begins, we are completely dependent on others. Through the time in our mother's womb to birth and even after that. The older we get, the less dependant we become.
The opposite is true with the end of life. For those who die a slow death because of old age or a terminal disease, the process can be painful to watch. It's sad watching an adult who has lived a life of strength, freedom and independence become more and more dependent on others.
I've been in New Orleans now for seven weeks watching my dad become weaker and weaker and more reliant on others. He has terminal cancer and has only a few days left. The cancer has spread to his brain and has made him much like he was when he started life, helpless, and lacking understanding.
My heart breaks as I see him go through this while at the same time I understand it is something many of us will have to do. Dying is as naturally a part of life as birth.
The character my dad developed during his 78 years of life is paying off for him now that he is dying. No matter how much pain he is in, his sense of humor is strong. We've always been a family that has laughed a lot. It's no different now that one of us is dying. My dad is making sure of it. My dad could take the easy route and feel sorry for himself and seek pity. His character won't allow it. I've always had great respect for my father. Watching him die gracefully, and unselfishly has intensified that respect a hundred fold.
My dad's character mixed with his faith has carried him through this time and is making it easier for us all. A deacon from the Catholic Church brings him communion every week. Together they say the Lord's Prayer, the "Our Father" as Catholics call it. My dad can't get through the prayer without crying.
The tears start to flow at "Our Father, who art in heaven, holy be thy name," and they don't stop until he gets to "And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, " My dad has found peace in the fact that where he is going there will be no temptation or evil, only peace.
My dad told me the other day, with his weak voice: "Danny, I've always thought the best feeling in life would be to hit a home run in the major leagues. I realize now I was wrong." He said, "There is no better feeling than knowing you are dying and being at peace with God." I will admit to you I have not lived a life full of sacrifice thinking and caring for others. I am not proud of that. My life has been mostly about me.
Caring for my dad as he is dying these past few weeks makes me realize I've been missing out on a lot. There is virtue in caring for someone who can't care for himself. It also brings a tremendous amount of peace. Parents, I imagine, know what I speak of.
When my family and I care for my dad, he likes to remind us of the scripture found in the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus tells his disciples to feed the hungry, and care for the sick. Jesus says when you care for the least of these, you are caring for Him.
My dad tells us when we help him, we are doing God's work. What my dad may not realize is he is doing God's work by showing us how to live, even while he is dying.
Dan Fagan hosts a radio talk show on KFQD AM-750, from 2 to 5 p.m. and publishes thealaskastandard.com