Today is my father’s 89th birthday. Or, it would have been, if he had lived to see it. But he died in 1995, almost 10 years ago. Today, as I have every January 2 since then, I find myself wondering about the meaning of life. The New Year is always a time of reflection. The beginning of a fresh slate is a chance to start over, to resolve not to make the mistakes you did the year previous. That’s the conceit we start with. But to get there, to feel ready to begin with “becoming the best we can be,” we need to work through some of what we are.
My Dad died happy. I think. Although he was just 79, he felt he had lived a good life. That’s what he told me in the final days. He wasn’t being philosophical, or profound. That wasn’t his way. But I asked him whether he was ready to die. I think I asked because I wasn’t sure I was ready for him to die. But he’d been sick for three years and his life had shrunk to a daily routine of getting through the day. Still, he seemed more at ease in those last few days. He had decided to quit all the pills his doctor had put him on. His mind was clearer than it had been for awhile. And he was at home, in his own bed. Thanks to some dedicated home care workers, and my mother’s never-ending dedication, my Dad was going to die at home, which was how he wanted it. But was he ready?
“I don’t know if you’re ever ready,” he told me. “But I’m not worried,” he said quietly. By that point, he wasn’t talking much. I’ve got some pictures of him that I took the day before he died. He’s lying in bed with his eyes closed, and he looks suspiciously like he’s already dead. But after I had taken the photo, he opened his eyes and looked at me. “Are you done,” he asked? His humour always surprised me but it was comforting.
So today, I’m starting my 10th year without my Dad. As the years advance, I’m surprised how much of him I notice in me. Little things bring back memories. I find myself doing things that I remember him doing. There’s a connection there that is hard to put into words. It’s comforting on one hand and kind of creepy on another. Something has been passed on but I’m not sure what it is. My joints hurt more than they used to. I wake up in the morning and I’m aware that the years are passing. I’m not as young as I used to be. My children aren’t kids anymore, they’re young adults, with fascinating lives that don’t revolve around me anymore. I’m watching them grow up with mixed emotions.
But despite some misgivings about the year just passed, I’m excited by the one to come. Resolutions are good things. They may not be realized, but they help to focus attention on setting goals. I do want to exercise. I’m going to start with small doses. I want to move my arms again without pain. I want to exercise my mind and keep it limber. I hope to connect with friends I’ve neglected. I want to enjoy every day because they’re all precious. And when the inevitable arrives and one of my kids asks me the big question, I hope I feel the way my Dad did.
Happy Birthday, Dad. And Happy New Year to everyone.