Random Thoughts from a Restless Mind

Dr. Darrell White's Personal Blog

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The Cardboard in the Shoes Kid

A reprise and an update on the weekend of my Dad’s passing 6 years ago.

My Dad would have been 90 this year. The “cardboard in the shoes kid” who grew up poor during the Depression and became the embodiment of the American Dream. We lost him six years ago yesterday, 10/9/2015, at 8:30 in the evening. He slipped away slowly and peacefully with my Mom and my sister Tracey present. Dad was something of a medical miracle. He survived a 4-jump bypass at age 54, lost a kidney to some weird cancer undoubtedly caused by his experience as a nuclear test “observer” in the army in the ’50’s, and lived pretty well for a couple of decades while ignoring his diabetes. His active life slowly eroded due to terrible pain caused by spinal stenosis.

His life was effectively ended when he suffered the “never event” of a spinal infection from a pain injection.

Even though he didn’t actually die for almost 3 years, we lost the Dad we knew in the ER when he was given medication which turbocharged his otherwise very mild dementia. 3 months of hospitalization later the smart, funny, kind man with back pain who entered the ER was replaced with a fearful, angst-riddled guy who couldn’t remember if he’d had breakfast 15 minutes after getting up from the table. The sole consolation in the entire endeavor was that he not only was pain free from the surgery that cured his infection, but his dementia was such that he had no memory of ever having it.

We had two and a half years to prepare, a kind of “pre-mourning” if you will. Don’t believe it. There’s no such thing. Staring at the specter of a slow, tortuous decline with all of the indignities associated with it, I was still wholly unprepared for what turned out to be an unexpected and surprisingly quick demise. Nothing of these 2+ years of knowing left me the least bit prepared.

Some time ago I attended a talk on end of life care, the first in a lecture series honoring a friend I lost to cancer a few years ago. The talk was surprisingly moving, not only because it brought back memories of Ken but also because while attending it I knew I would likely lose my Dad in the not too far future, and I thought of my folks throughout the talk. What the speaker discussed as end of life care and end of life preparations also offered a very important take-away that I tried try to apply every day since, especially with my parents.

The speaker’s thesis is that one should say 4 things often and with ease, not only in the course of completing a life’s work or concluding a life’s relationships, but in the course of living a life.

Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you.

Sounds simple, huh? Maybe even a little trite. I’ve now spent several years thinking about those 4 essential things and about how they fit in a life that is not necessarily concluding (at least I hope not!). We are, each of us, part of a tiny little ecosystem; thinking about using these phrases encourages us to look outward and see the others in our own worlds whether we are approaching the conclusion of a life, or smack dab in the middle.

Actually, without really knowing it I’ve been on this path for some years now, probably guided by Beth and her inherent goodness. Friends come and go; either way I’ll likely feel a sense of completeness in any relationship if I remember these 4 things. Patients and staff do, too. I think I’m a pretty good boss and pretty user-friendly for patients as far as specialists go. Bet I’ll be better at both if I’m thinking about these, even just a little bit, even now.

Please forgive me. I forgive you. Thank you. I love you.

I hope, sweet God do I hope that I remembered enough, said these enough. I pray that I remembered to say them to my Dad before he lost the ability to remember that I said them. Don’t wait as the end of someone’s life approaches to say these four things. Don’t wait for the conclusion of your life before you think about these.

Richard E. “Dick” White 6/21/31-10/9/15.

I really loved my Dad.

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