December 13, 2011

FINAL BLESSING:

A Lesson Before Dying: To bemoan illness after a good life seemed ungrateful. (BRET STEPHENS, 12/12/11, WSJ)

How did my father maintain his composure in the face of his progressive deterioration? We never spoke about it. I sometimes chalked it up to being born in the 1930s, before the baby boom and the cult of self. He was not a complainer. To bemoan his illness after a life in which the good breaks outnumbered the bad ones would have seemed to him ungrateful. The worst he ever said to me about his cancer was that it was "a bummer."

Yet there was something else at work. The sicker my father got, the more dependent he became on his family, the less he had to give back. What could he offer, except not to sink us into the terror he surely must have felt? So he maintained his usual active and joyful interest in our lives and the lives of his friends and in politics and the movies we watched together. Sticking to the mundane and the lighthearted was his way of being protective with the people he loved. For as long as he could muster his wits, death was not allowed to enter the room.

Throughout his life my father taught me many lessons: about language, history and philosophy; about ethics, loyalty and love. In the end, he taught me that death cannot destroy the dignity of a dignified man.

Charles J. Stephens, 1937-2011. May his memory be for a blessing. 

Posted by at December 13, 2011 6:25 AM
  

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