16: His Final Lesson

16: His Final Lesson

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

His Final Lesson

If I thought I was going to die tomorrow,
I should nevertheless plant a tree today.

~Stephan Girard

“Meg, we need to talk.”

“Sure thing, Dad.”

My father and I had been sitting on the couch watching TV together, and I knew he meant business when he muted the TV.

“As you know, I have been to the doctor several times over the last few days, and well Meg, I have a brain tumor.”

“Okay,” was all I could say.

“Just okay?”

“Yep, just okay.”

Of course he proceeded to explain to me the generalities, to which I offered only a nod. Looking back on that conversation, I didn’t know then what a big impact that moment would have on my life. At the time I thought to myself, “Brain tumor — no biggie for Dad. If Mom can beat cancer, he can beat this.” Now I look back, thankful for my innocence.

It was the second half of my senior year, that time in a girl’s life when all the really big exciting events are happening. Senior prom, my final play performance, my eighteenth birthday and his fiftieth, baccalaureate, and graduation were all scattered about in just two short months. My parents were in and out of the hospital, and I was in and out of the house. Sure, I went to see him — like five times — but I was busy and I had all my events to go to.

By senior prom Dad was bald; he couldn’t really concentrate on my final performance, but he was there. He gallantly sat through both of our birthday dinners even with his nausea, and he fought like hell to get out of the hospital for my graduation. During those months, we both were concentrating on the same thing . . . me, but this story isn’t really about me. His doctor said that by focusing on all my future events, it kept my dad alive longer. I guess they really do know what they are talking about because nine days after my high school graduation, my father died.

For the next two weeks after his funeral, I didn’t leave my room, not even to shower. Finally, my mom stormed in, opened my blinds and said, “Enough is enough, Megan. Get up. I have something for you to read.” My father’s doctor had sent my mother a letter. It contained the typical “I’m sorry for your loss” sentiments. But this one was far from typical. It was tear-stained. I could physically see the pain this loss had caused him. In his letter he wrote about how my father inspired him to change his life and the way he worked. My father had not been just a patient to him, and for the first time he actually saw the person he was treating.

He cared more for the people around him than he did his own pain. I have never met someone who put everyone else first. He was the type of person I desire to be. In his short time here, he touched everyone that worked with him and quickly became the eighth floor’s favorite patient. His memory will forever live on in the hearts of doctors and nurses here at Saint Thomas and my life will never be the same.

After I finished reading it, I went and found Mom. With a steady and level gaze, she told me, “Go and get out of this house. Your father is gone. We all miss him, but living in the dark of your room will not bring him back. Live your life. Get a job, hang out with your friends, do something, anything, but don’t waste the life you have been given.”

I took her words to heart. Two weeks and three days after my father died, I got a job as a summer camp counselor. I worked from the time I got up to the time I went to bed every day that summer. I was giving everything I had to these little kids, and slowly they helped to heal me without even realizing what they were doing. Their innocence had helped me rediscover some of mine.

Too soon, it was the end of summer and I sat in the middle of my bedroom floor packing my things to start college. I began to think back over the last few months and all the changes that had taken place in my life. I thought of my father and how he wouldn’t be able to help me move into my dorm room, but also about my summer spent as a camp counselor. Then out of nowhere I remembered the letter his doctor had written. That’s when I realized the biggest change that had occurred in my life that summer. I had become an adult.

My summer mirrored parts of the life my father led in his last few days. I had spent the summer months giving of myself to children. It was not the senior summer I had always envisioned. It wasn’t all about me. I had learned the final lesson my father was teaching me, that in order to lead a fulfilling and happy life, you must learn how to give of yourself to others. By helping them you really are just helping yourself.

~Megan Tucker-Hall

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