my father wrote his own obituary.
thanks to that mind-shift from an attitude of fear to one of defiant hope, i found the determination to start walking the road of freedom
literally. the death notice that appeared in the papers when dad died was the one he wrote for himself. i don't know when he started it, but apparently it was at least several years before he died; it had gone through a number of edits as he updated his memberships and accomplishments and kept the "survived by" list current. all that needed to be added when he died was the date of his death. the only piece of information about his own life that he'd never be privy to; the exact date it would end...
i have an idea why he started it, though; i think it was because he came face to face with his own mortality, and he was the kind of man who liked to be prepared. he liked to take care of things ahead of time; he was the epitome of the old saying, "never put off 'til tomorrow what you can do today". and who knows where that trait might have come from? maybe it was his strict baptist upbringing, or the fact that he grew up the only son on a michigan farm, or maybe it was because his earliest childhood memories would have been of an america in the throes of the great depression.
whatever the reason, dad wrote his own obituary, and he did it in his usual methodical, meticulous way (he was an engineer); it contained all the pertinent information and just enough detail to keep the reader interested. and if something more interesting came along, he'd rewrite some less important part of it so that it would always come out to exactly half a newspaper column in length. it was as if he wanted to make sure that it would always fit either above or below the fold (as it turned out, it was above the fold in both papers i saw it in). considerate to the end; that was dad's way.
it was ten years this may that my dad passed away, and, looking back, i find an awful lot about him to admire. true, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and we do tend to remember the good times rather than the bad. i know he wasn't perfect; far from it. and i'm not romanticizing him; he really did have a lot of very admirable qualities. still, it used to be that i didn't care much for being compared to him (whether favorably or not); yet, over the years since he's gone, i've surprised myself on many occasions by finding traits in myself that clearly could have only come from one place.
in fact, it was my growing resemblance to my father, both physically and otherwise, that gave me my greatest cause for fear that i would fail, once again, in this latest attempt to break free of my addiction. dad never could get free, although he tried many times. he smoked right up to the end, despite several battles with cancer; despite losing half a lung to it. in the end, it killed him. and my greatest fear six and a half weeks ago was that i'd be no stronger than he'd been; that i'd fail, and fail again, until eventually, feeding my addiction would kill me, just as it had killed him.
as i searched for a new paradigm, one that would help me believe that i could get free, i found it in my brother bob. bob was an alcoholic, but he didn't touch a drop for the last ten years of his life. he was also a nicotine addict, but he didn't take a puff for the last 6 to 8 years of his life. he had the strength to get up every morning, look his twin addictions in the eye, and say, "i'm not gonna feed you today". i decided that if bob could do it, so could i; after all, i was only dealing with one demon - he'd had two.
and thanks to that mind-shift from an attitude of fear ("what if i'm no stronger than dad was when it comes to this addiction? what if i can't quit? what if i fail?") to one of defiant hope ("if bob could do it, so can i!"), i found the determination to start walking the road of freedom, and tonight, it's been six weeks that i've been walking that road. i'll always be grateful to bob for helping me find the strength to face my demon, day after day, and prevail; i only wish i could thank him personally.
like dad, bob came face to face with his own mortality; unlike dad, bob did not write his own obituary. i don't think the idea would ever have occurred to him, even after he knew without a doubt that he would not be leaving that hospital under his own power. by then (as his friends from AA might have said), he'd given all his worldly concerns into the care of the higher power of his understanding. even though bob also shared a lot of traits with dad, that level of meticulous planning was not part of his nature (as it is not part of mine).
seven weeks ago, i came face to face with my own mortality; my doctor told me that i had given myself an advanced case of emphysema by smoking, and that, if i didn't quit smoking right now, it would kill me. dad and bob also came face to face with their own mortality; dad, being the person he was, reacted (at least in part) by writing his own obituary. bob did not. and, in celebration of both the differences from, and the similarities to, our father that bob and i shared, i've decided to split the difference by writing not my death notice, but my "re-birth" notice:
November 19th, 2001, out of the smoke and ashes of his addiction to nicotine, a 71 inch, 195 lb. ex-smoker and recovering nicotine addict named "woofmang".
Friends and well-wishers are invited to leave notes of encouragement to all who seek to join him on the road of freedom, where he has been walking since the day of his re-birth...
kevin - grateful to be in my 42nd day of freedom!