A Successful Life:
It’s been a month since my father died. In the 3 months prior I often found myself staring at him for long periods. Perhaps he wondered if I felt sorry for him or if I was saddened by the changes in his physical appearance or simply by all of it. “What?” he would say. “Nothing, I just love you,” I would respond. And I did. My thoughts were simple, “I love this man”. I loved him deeply in a pure, sweet way.
Despite the complexities of my family’s dynamics, close relationships and divorced parents, I had no regrets or sadness there. I did not wish for anything in our past to be different. I didn’t have any unresolved emotions bubbling up, no need to give or receive any apologies or rehash any of the past for closure or whatever. My only feelings and thoughts in this time were about my love for him and it was simple, honest, complete.
The profound and un-conflicted love that I experienced is a credit to my dad and the way he lived as a father and a man. I believe that when you can reach the end of your life and your children and those around you can look at you with pure love, no regrets, and no unresolved emotions, then you have lived a truly successful life. I can’t imagine anything more rewarding in my final time on earth.
As a culture we have so many definitions of being successful. They usually include various combinations of money, prestige, social status, education, leadership skills, job, beauty or whatever. Perhaps what we’re really after and a better definition of a successful life is the seamless connection and outward manifestation of our deeper, truer self.
Throughout my lifetime, my father has always been the stable force in my life. There was never drama; he was simply himself, always. He loved people, his family, a good beer (or any beer) and a funny joke. He always lived right in the moment and never worried about tomorrow. You could feel that when you were around him. Whether you were a stranger or a friend, you felt special when you were with him because he was so present, engaged and loving in the moment.
As we strive to build our successful lives, it’s clear we get caught up in the busy-ness of the day with a watchful eye toward the future. Dad’s success, which came so natural to him, is what so many of us seem to be seeking. Present moment awareness, happiness and connection with self and with others. I see now, how successful my dad was in this life.
I can’t think of one time in my 40 years when my dad did not tell me he loved me. Either on the phone or in person, he let me know clearly how much I was loved. When we were together, for emphasis, it was coupled with a big bear hug. My dad loved to give (and receive) hugs. Unconditional love was what he offered and I was a blessed recipient. A truly successful life is to give and receive love without any conditions or expectations.
I have been to countless medical visits with my father over the past 3 months. These visits were not hopeful or inspiring and they were physically exhausting for him. Having sustained multiple injuries in car accident and diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer on the same day, his body was going through a lot. This man who had always been so loving and so present with people, this man who never met a stranger, who loved to give hugs and tell funny jokes was still my father in every way. He was so present with all of his caretakers. He took the time to look everyone in the eye, shake their hand and thank them wholeheartedly for everything they were doing for him. I can’t think of a single Dr’s visit when Dad did not have me and someone on staff smiling and laughing. His humor and love for people came above any of his own physical or mental suffering.
This is a successful life, to remain your truest self even in the most difficult of times. He was positive, loving and humorous not only in life, but while facing death.
My father taught me how to live a successful life. He also taught me how to die with grace and love. These lessons are deep and I am still processing. I do not know how to live this life without my father in it. Part of me still feels like a little girl and I want to throw myself on the floor in a fit of resistance and bitterness at this loss. But the little girl my father raised knows I have to pick myself up and try to live the way a great man taught me, with love, laughter, bear hugs and a willingness to surrender to life and all it has to offer… the love and the loss.
I am blessed to be in this profession where I have been able to care for my father’s needs in his final days. I am blessed to have wonderful clients that challenge me and keep me in the moment. I thank you all for your love and support. You have been on this journey with me over the last months, whether you knew it or not, and I am grateful. Thank you for letting me share this with you.
Lawrence Joseph Nelson
September 3, 1953 – November 9th, 2015