Facing Death

Being a father of two kids, I get excited about the winter weather forecast. If we were to get hit with heavy snow or ice, I would like to clean up the house to play with the kids. I want the floor to be spotless clean so we could roll around if we wanted to. After picking Dao up from daycare, we went straight home and got to work. As I was vacuuming the room my parents-in-law used to stayed in, Dao jumped up and down the bed. Then he went over to the table to pick up a framed photo of his grandparents. He pointed out to me, “Daddy, look. Ông ngoại and bà ngoại. They wear new clothes.” Every time he mentioned ông ngoại, I feel a bit of sadness. I wish they could have more time together.

Yesterday also marked two months since bố passed away. Six months before that I was with him in the hospital when the doctor came in to talk about his situation. The doctor asked bố if he wanted to hear the truth about his condition. Bố misunderstood the question so I translated to him, but then the doctor stopped me. He called a third-party translator instead. Somehow I predicted that whatever the doctor was going to say, it wouldn’t be good and he didn’t want me to manipulate the translation.

Once he had a Vietnamese translator on the line, he asked bố once again if he wanted to hear about his condition and bố agreed. At this point, bố had already lost his voice. He could barely speak up, but he tried all he could. The doctor went straight to the point. He told bố that he had three to six months left. When I heard that the chill ran through my spines. I couldn’t even imagine what had gone through bố’s mind. When the doctor left, bố said to me in Vietnamese, “Bring me some food. I have to eat even if I am going to die.” Before that he refused to eat anything. The doctor’s statement still haunts me till this day. I was upset that he was so frank about it to a patient, but the truth is the truth. Bố passed away around the time he predicted.

Death is a very sensitive subject and I thought of it so often over the years. Death is inevitable. I will have to face it when it is my time to go. It’s easy for me to say, but how would I face it when it is my turn to go? After bố went back home, I wanted to understand how his feeling at the time when he knew how much time he had left, but I couldn’t ask. The situation was way too devastating.

There was no way I could put myself inside his shoes, but I kept wondering how would I feel if I knew I am going to die. What made the situation so excruciating was that bố’s mind was still strong, but his body was failing him. The day before he drew his final breath he was still in the hospital and my mother-in-law said to him, “Let’s go home.” He responded, “This is it?”

With courage, bố faced his death and left us without saying much. He contented with his life. As a father, he had done a great job of raising his children. He succeeded in guiding them according to the Vietnamese standard: college degree, decent job and happy life. As a husband, he loved and being loved for over forty years. Those two things alone made him the man I look up to. The only thing that he didn’t seem to be satisfied was that he didn’t get a chance to travel the world with his wife after they retired. He was the type of man that get the hard job done first than enjoy later. I shared the same view with him, but I learned through him that you can not plan your life. Live now while you still can.

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