Sunday, June 8, 2008

An unexpected gift

My father-in-law is dying.

It looks like his hard-fought battle with skin cancer is coming to an end. The wife and I were on vacation in New York city last week and instead of flying home with me to LA, she took a detour back to Texas for what could be her last visit with her Dad.

I know this scenario all too well. Fifteen years ago, I made the same journey. My Dad's battle with skin cancer was also coming to an end. An unexpected phone call from my Dad's boss, informing me that "we almost lost your Dad today" resulted in a rush trip to Atlanta to be at my Father's side.

Cancer, as horrific as it is, also comes with...for lack of a better word...a "gift." It provides you with an opportunity to say what needs to be said and do what needs to be done.

My Dad was a good man in many ways. He provided for us in a material sense. He taught me how to water ski, how to drive a boat, and the value of a good work ethic. But, like many men of his generation, he was emotionally absent and distant.

My encounter with him at his hospital bed was different. Within 24 hours of my arrival, my Father miraculously rallied and was alert and clear-minded. We had one of the most honest conversations I'd ever had with him. My detached, emotionally distant Father was vulnerable, open, and honest. I saw a side of him I had never seen before. I finally got a glimpse of his heart.

Cancer had given my Dad the gift of clarity. The opportunity to consider what was really important. It gave him the opportunity to make peace with God, with my sister and I, and with his ex-wife (my Mother). It gave him the courage to open his heart to us.

He passed away a week later.

The wife's conversation with her Dad was similar in it's significance. No doubt it will be a conversation to savor and cherish for the rest of her life. Cancer's clarifying power continues on.

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