When we think about death, we often think about what will
happen to us after we have died. But it is more important
to think about what will happen to those we leave behind.
The way we die has a deep and lasting effect on those who
stay alive. It will be easier for our family and friends to
remember us with joy and peace if we have said a grateful
good-bye than if we die with bitter and disillusioned
The greatest gift we can offer our families and friends is
the gift of gratitude. Gratitude sets them free to continue
their lives without bitterness or self-recrimination. – Henri Nouwen
Today (September 28th) would be my father’s 95th birthday. He died nearly two years ago and I have missed him dearly. Grief is a strange thing. It has a way of reminding you that saying goodbye is never really that easy. Any of us who have lost a loved one will certainly attest to that. We find that grief is a wave like emotion that washes over us often when we are least expecting it. I can testify that I feel a great sense of loss from time to time about Dad and his departure from us. That being said, it is really with a sense of thanksgiving that I remember Dad today.
How often to I hear about broken family relationships? How often do I find myself being present with someone who is grieving not just a death but a relationship that felt less than fulfilled in life? The answer is too often in both cases. Today I am so grateful that Dad ‘left it all on the ice’ as it were. He was very forthright in his later years about how proud he was of his family. He was openly thankful for his long life and the opportunity to see all of his children grow and marry and have families of their own. He was so very proud again to see his grandchildren also start their families. He was so grateful for all of what God had given him in life. Dad was a man of modest means but he felt that he had been given so very much. He was grateful for his family and for his relationships. Because Dad told us all how he felt, he died in the best spirit possible – no regret, no anger, no bitterness, and no need for more time. When I returned to NL two weeks before his death, I sat on his bed with him. We kissed, we embraced and we talked. “I am proud of everybody,” Dad said. “I have had a good life and I have a great family. I am ready to die.” As hard as those words were to hear, they were beautiful words from a man who had loved us all very well. And I know that he was right and the time had come for him to die. Nouwen is right on the mark. Dad gave us the gift of gratitude which gives me freedom to continue my life knowing that I have no need to be bitter, no need for resentment or regret. I know how grateful Dad was for me – he told me. He told others too. He was grateful for his whole family. Folks here in Windsor will no doubt remember him sharing so much about his family and how proud he was of all of them. He loved to start from the top and tell people about James and then he would work down through Helen, Elaine, Lloyd, Robert, Darryl and of course Kevin. Dad made sure that when he died, we did not have to spend his birthday hanging our heads and grieving what was not. Instead, we need to take a day like today and celebrate what we had and how Dad lived well and he died well. Dad was teaching us to the end in that sense.
Many of you have people in your lives that have live the same way and you too will testify to the freedom of being able to grieve their loss without bitterness and regret etc. With that positive example we ask ourselves who needs to hear about our love and our gratitude tonight. If we were to die tomorrow, would those who are closest in our lives know that we had gratitude for what God gave us? Have we sufficiently thanked those that have loved us so well for the care and attention they have given us? Have we displayed to others or gratefulness for life itself?
I am celebrating today for the good gift I had in Dad and I am celebrating the fact that he left us knowing that he left us with the gift of gratitude.
Happy Birthday Dad!