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“Do You Want To Be Left with Questions or Answers?”--PART 1

What we did have was today. More precisely, we had now. We were going to make the most of it. Time was measured quite differently now. Five minutes were very precious.

When we would no longer have the day, I would have memories. I would have courage, confidence and peace of mind. That is what my parents gave me by talking to me. A great gift started to be unwrapped when I actually started to listen.

“Being angry isn’t going to change anything...”

What was going on in our home was a double dose of cancer. My mother was diagnosed with lung cancer and my father with prostate cancer at the same time. I was sad and I was mad. It wasn’t fair. They were too young. I was too young. I thought if we didn’t talk about it, it would just go away. “Being angry isn’t going to change anything,” my mother would tell me. “Things happen for a reason. You’ll see, some good will come from this.” I had no idea what she could be talking about until many years later.

One afternoon at the kitchen table, my parents said, “ We have alot to talk about. You are going to be left with the house, the car, the yard, the dog, crazy auntie, and mountains of paperwork from the doctors, the hospital, the insurance companies. You are going to have your hands full.”  She could feel my resistance.

In my heart of hearts, I was hoping for a cure and praying for a miracle.

Appealing to my sense of reason, she simply tossed out “Take a little while to think about this…do you want to be left with questions or answers?” I don’t want you missing us for the wrong reasons. There will be no reason to be saying things like, “Look at this mess…I don’t know where to begin…how could they have done this to me” when we are gone. Let’s make the time to talk. Let’s take the time to talk.”

So began our adventure. On a typical day, I would call my parents in the morning to get a “reading” as to how they were feeling. I was working close to where they lived so I went home for lunch to visit and see what they needed to get done. After work, I would go back to their house and have dinner with them and stay until they were ready to go to bed. Lunch hour was getting to be a bit of a problem for my boss at work. You see, I would leave at 11:30 and try to get back by 12:30. There were days that I needed to stay longer than one hour, so I did.

On one of these afternoons, upon my return to work, I was called into the boss’s office. “We have to talk about what is going on,” he said. I honestly thought there was going to be compassion and understanding coming forth from his heart. I actually thought he was going to ask me if there was anything he could do to help. I worked at night and weekends to make up for any lost time. I was very aware of deadlines. They were always conscientiously met. Projects and reports were always finished. I was doing my best to keep all the balls up in the air.

“You have to figure out what your priorities are. Take the day to think about it.”

“Long lunches don’t look good,” Mr. Boss stated with no direct eye contact. “You have to figure out what your priorities are. Take the day to think about it.” As I was walked toward the door, I quickly turned around and said with absolute confidence, “I know what my priorities are. When my parents are having a bad day, I need to be with them. When they are having a good day, I want to be with them. I have one set of parents who cannot be replaced and a job that can be replaced. It is an honor to take care of my parents. I’ll leave this afternoon.”

I arrived back at my parents’ house. My mother, surprised to see me back so soon, said with a big smile, “You are so lucky to be working where you are. They are so good to you to let you come and go as you please. Be sure to thank them.”  I told her that I had so much free time that it would look like I wasn’t working at all.

My father's call to action: "Stop, look and listen!"

My father was not going to waste any time. He had alot of territory to cover with me. He took me on a tour of the basement.

Stop, look and listen:

"If you have to turn off the water because of a burst pipe, here is the place to do it."

"If the water is just trickling into the washing machine, you have to clean the hoses because they are clogged with sentiment from the hard water. Here’s how to do it."

"If the dryer is not drying the clothes, the fuse is blown. This is a fuse. This is the fuse box. Replace the bad fuse."

As we approached the furnace, he wasn’t going to leave anything to chance. He whipped out seven pages of hand-written instructions on how to clean the coils. As soon as I saw the word “muriatic acid,” I stopped reading. I told him that I was not going to burn my eyes out messing around with acid. Upon hearing that, he told me to turn to the last page. I did. And it read: “In case you need to call someone to do this for you, call Mr. Vincent. His number is…”

Another day we went out into the yard. My father took great pride in his yard. The lawn felt like a plush carpet when you walked on it. There were beautiful flowers everywhere. All animals-large and small were welcomed. The squirrels would come up and take nuts out of our hands. The rabbits enjoyed the clover. The birds had their feeders placed safely away from any threat of intruders. Sounds like a little bit like paradise, well, it was for my father. And he did not want this paradise interrupted.

“You know, someday you are going to need to have the septic tank pumped. I don’t want you digging up the yard searching for it…so, here is a map. It shows you exactly where it is with no guesswork.” It was all there all measured out from every corner and wall and tree.  I took the map back to the house and put it in a folder.

Working in the yard was therapy for him. "Planting with a purpose" could have been his motto.

One afternoon he asked me to come outside, there was one more thing on his list that he needed to tell me about. He pointed to the corner of the yard. All I saw was soil that was freshly turned in a flowerbed.

“Over there are the flowers for the alter. You know, for your wedding.” I looked at him blankly. I didn’t see any flowers and I wasn’t even close to being engaged.  “Don’t worry, you have time, I just planted the seeds. By the way, they are perennials. They will be coming up for years.”

Thanks Dad. Love You. Always.

PART 2: My mother had her "To Do" list that did not come anywhere close to my father's list...


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