Donald is my son-in-law. He has been in my life since the early 90’s when he dated and married my oldest daughter. He became a brother to his younger sister-in-laws and a son to me. Opinionated (and usually correct in his opinions), gruff on the outside (but gentle and kind on the inside) and always willing to help others in need (lives were changed for the better because of him) – that is the sum of Donald.
- “Ma, I take it a minute at a time”
Not an hour or a day or a week at a time; a minute at a time. Each minute counts and each minute we live is different from the minute before and the minute after. A lot can happen within a minute. Lives can change, the world can change.
Donald lived knowing that any minute could be his last. He lived. He did what he wanted, when he wanted, how he wanted and he lived this way for as long as his declining health allowed him. He did as much as he could with his wife, children and grandchild, and even when the pain would have made a lesser person crawl into a ball and cry, he kept going.
The Lesson: Live life in each minute.
- “I’ll do whatever I have to, Ma, and if it means dialysis for twenty years, that’s twenty years. This is my job – staying alive”
Diagnosed with end-stage renal failure in 2005, he took each minute as another minute he had been blessed with life. It was hard for him to remain still for so many hours on dialysis. As an active man, he had to readjust his life so he could live for his wife and children and grandchild.
The past few years he was hospitalized more often than before as more and more of his body took the hard hits from dialysis and failed kidneys. But, even when we thought he would not come out of the hospital, he always surprised us and was back on his feet and ready to live for us.
The Lesson: Live not for yourself, but for others.
- “It’s hard, Ma. Sometimes I want to give up, but then I think about my girls”
There is a critical point in everyone’s life when you want to throw in the towel. After being rejected for a kidney transplant in 2014, Donald hit that critical point.
But, he kept going. His main job was to stay alive for his family. Even as his heart started to show the effects of kidney disease and dialysis, he kept on going. Even when the pain made him want to end it all, he pushed past it and continued to live.
The Lesson: Life is filled with devastating potholes – when you slip into one, focus on the people who will help you climb up.
- “It’s all good, Ma. It’s all good”
Each night we go to sleep and expect to wake with the morning light. February 4th, 2015, was no different.
My daughter was in the hospital recovering from surgery and I was staying at her house for the week to help her and my son-in-law out. The night had been restless for me and I was ready to get up when the sun started to rise.
The kitchen light was off. There was no coffee brewing. The stillness was too still and like a punch, I felt a terrible wrongness.
The moment I found Donald in his final rest plays over and over in my mind every day. So perfectly still, so perfectly peaceful, so perfectly at rest. No more pain, no more discomfort, no more fear.
At the age of forty, his heart had stopped. He had taken one breath in and let one last breath out.
He was finally free.
The Lesson: Death is the beginning.
It’s been one month since Donald passed away. It feels like it’s only been a few days. Our reality has shifted and filled with thoughts of It’s not fair and This can’t be real. We cry every day for the loss of his presence in this world.
I believe in life after death. So did Donald. He was ready to fearlessly step through the doorway to Heaven. “When God calls me, that’s when I’ll go,” he would tell me during several of our phone calls over the last few years.
Others have different beliefs. Some believe in a collective consciousness after death, some believe in dark nothingness. The one thing we can all agree on is we bring back those who have passed by remembering them. Death cannot take our memories away. Our loved ones live again in our thoughts. They live when we talk about them to others. They live forever in our hearts.
Every so often, I hear Donald’s voice in my mind telling me that now, right now, at this very moment in time, for me, for him, for our families, “It’s all good, Ma. It’s all good.”