Mom, will you die when I’m tall?
No sweetie, I’m not going to die until you’re very old and I’m very very old. Being tall has nothing to do with it.
But Mom, what happens when I die. What will I do then?
Well, when you die, you don’t really have a chance to do anything else.
That’s sad, Mommy. I’m going to be very sad when I die.
Oh sweetie, you don’t have to worry about that right now. It’s not going to happen for a really really long time. But you’re right, it is a super sad thing when someone dies, and crying about it is what people do. Just like I cry about Zayde sometimes.
Did Zayde know me Mom?
No. You were in my belly when he died though, and he knew you were on the way.
Four years ago, on the day after Thanksgiving, my dad finally let go after an eleven year battle with multiple types of cancer and all the complications that came along the way. Over the course of his illness he suffered much of the time, enduring a stem cell transplant, multiple rounds of chemo, radiation, and more pills and pains than anybody should have to. But here’s the amazing thing: during all that time he maintained an intense desire to keep going. To live. To be present as best he could, and to participate in and witness the big life events. He defied all the medical odds, and despite being told he may only have six months, he made it over a decade. They weren’t easy years. They were anything but easy. Yet whenever you asked if it was worth it, he always responded with, “Well it sure as hell beats the alternative.”
My dad didn’t die when I was tall (at 5’1″ I’m never going to claim that description,) and he didn’t die when I was old. By years, he wasn’t very very old either, just 66. But his health caused him to age too quickly, breaking his body down.
In the days leading up to Thanksgiving 2010, there was the same question there had always been: will this be his last? I was at my own home in New Jersey when the call came that it was time. Honestly, I can’t remember right now exactly when in the day I heard, but I was planning to have a house full of people that afternoon for dinner. I had already made the caramelized onions for the gravy, the cranberry sauce was chilling, the green beans were trimmed, and the cornbread was drying out for the stuffing. Should I leave the turkey in the oven and head to the airport immediately, or would there be enough time to wait until the morning?…