I wasn't expecting or looking for a message, but in the two weeks since my father's death I found myself thinking about him more than I had ever thought about him when he was still alive. I took his existence for granted. After close to 98 years of life I unconsciously began to feel that he would always be there. A constant stream of memories kept appearing--mostly the things I loved about him and the gifts he had given me. The thought that kept emerging with the greatest frequency was how courageous he was--how he lived without fear, was a realist, and yet lived as though he had all the time in the world. He was known to be a dreamer. Can one be a dreamer and a realist I wondered? Yes, I realized, because he loved dreaming and imagining things more than actually realizing most of his dreams. One exception was his land in rural Grafton, New York. This was his greatest dream and one he achived in his 70's. When he was 84 he reshingled his huge hip roofed barn--building scaffolding and working 50 feet above the ground. At 97, legally blind and partially deaf, he still wanted to go into business building bird houses he called "for the birds."
The term "he marched to his own drummer" fit Dad to a t! He had his own point of view and it was unshakable, even when offered what I considered to be solid evidence to the contrary. When told he should no longer drive a car, he drove his golf cart several miles down the shoulder of the road to the senior center. He had his own way of looking at things. Shortly after the disastrous attack and destruction of the World Trade Towers on 9-11, I was nominated for two awards for an article I had written for Food Arts Magazine called "The Sugar Bible." One ceremony was being held in Los Vegas and the other in Adelaide, Australia. I called my Dad to ask him if I should risk flying. I asked him how he would feel if I were to die. I knew what my mother's answer would have been--something along the lines of: "Don't even say such a thing. If you die I will die." Not my father. To my dismay he said: "I wouldn't feel all that bad!" "What do you mean?" I exclaimed, getting ready to feel outraged. He explained: "Everyone has to die sometime. What is that saying about a coward dying many deaths but a brave man just one?" And thus he gave me permission to live my life without fear. All these thoughts culminated in the message which led me to a new understanding of what life means to me. It has been said that the major difference between human beings and all other life is that we understand our lives to be finite. But this understanding is an intellectual one. On an emotional level the concept seems horrifyingly inconceivable. Surely that is why we do not live each moment in the awareness that it may be our last. When someone we love dies, these two states of being--the intellectual and emotional knowledge converge. A window opens to our consciousness and for a fleeting moment we can perceive the true miracle of existence more clearly than any prayer uttered unthinkingly by rote. Life is our gift from the universe and it's beauty and majesty are all the more heartbreakingly poignant because its antonym is death. My father's last words, when prompted by my brother's asking if there was something he wanted to say to us, were: "Continue on." We were blessed by the loving care given to him by his caretaker Shelly Tilly, her mother Pat Kennedy and daughter Jessie Rae Jacobs. I am grateful that I had my father for so many years and that I got to say goodbye. I'm grateful that he got to see my brother and me, after years of hard work and struggle, achieve success. I'm grateful that my brother and dear wife Mia gave him a granddaughter* who asked to skip her graduation so that she could come across country and say goodbye to her grandfather. Most of all, I am grateful that he gave us life. I will try to make the most of it and remember to keep the vision of its miracle before me and be worshipful. *Special Note: Mariella was presented with her diploma a day before graduation and the joyful surprise of receiving the top honor in her graduating class (The Head's Cup). She had the chance to read the award to her grandfather, stopping at the end of every paragraph to ask if he was following, to which he said, each and every time, a resounding Yes! He hardly had the energy to talk but pride and love won out.