Deanne Ouest, Author

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What am I thankful for? A tribute to my father

 


 

Reflecting on what I am thankful for many things come to mind. One, is that my family is heathy when many are not. I’m also thankful to have wonderful memories of thanksgiving past that were spent with my parents who are no longer with us. My mother was one of my best friends and I miss her every day but my father was something a little extra special. I am truly thankful for having the father that I had. Dad found joy in life and through that taught us all something. From a young boy, dad’s life had not been easy and sometimes it had been downright difficult but he always persevered and somehow, someway always found something to be happy about.

My father didn’t preach to us and he didn’t lecture us, he always showed us the kind of person you should be. Ironic for someone who now is embarking on a career as a writer, where show, not tell is so important. So this thanksgiving I reflect on his last few years and what he showed to everyone whose life he touched.

My father never got to experience his last thanksgiving as he was too heavily medicated and at the end stage of ALS. I will always remember that thanksgiving as we sat by his bed in vigil. I recall dropping into my in-laws that year to have turkey – we didn’t feel particularly thankful that year watching and waiting as my father wasted away, his only option to end his suffering. It was 13 long days and nights. He died the Friday after thanksgiving – it’s been five years since he left us.

Having watched what my father endured with grace and as much dignity as was humanly possible given his condition, I will always be thankful for my health. My aches and pains are but a drop in the ocean of pain and discomfort he suffered over several years as his body failed him in so many ways while leaving his intelligence and awareness intact until almost the end when medication made it so. The amazing thing was during all of this, he more often than not, had a smile on his face, trying to live each day to his fullest ability no matter his increasing limitations. Dad was extremely fortunate as he had an incredible group of friends that assisted him in his many adventures those last few years. They recall being the fortunate ones to have known him which is a true testament to the person he was.

Dad’s friends would help him into his motorized wheelchair and load him into the old decrepit wheelchair van he had purchased and off they would go, rambling down country roads all across this province. Dad was strapped into his chair bumping around in the back, stopping along the way when they took a fancy. How he survived all the bouncing around, I will never know, but for him, it was a means to an end. Dad’s friends rallied around him and dad was dependent upon them for everything on these journeys, as at this point he had lost all use of his arms and legs, and most of his speech. The headed out on a trip a week, who ever was available going along for the ride. Dad took his last trip in late August 2009, his body failing him to the point that he could no longer be moved out of his bed.

During all of this, instead of drawing from the strength of those around him, dad by his very demeanour, courage and stubbornness, gave us all the strength to meet each day with him and for that I will be eternally grateful and thankful. My dad was an inspiration to us and those who knew him and all who met him during those last few years. I can only hope that if I should ever become as ill as he, I will be able to do so with the courage and dignity he did.

Given his circumstances my dad could have been a bitter and miserable person but he wasn’t. Even as his condition worsened, dad still managed to bring happiness to those around him. Dad always made sure there were treats in his room for the nursing and care staff as a thank you. Dad always the jokester, always tried to make them laugh. What dad gave, he received back tenfold, as he was always sincere in his giving and expected nothing in return. Dad wasn’t perfect, he did have his black moments, who wouldn’t, but those were out numbered by all the little joys he found and shared.

I am eternally thankful to have had the privilege of having such an incredible person as my father, who through his actions to the very end, showed me that the only obstacle in your way is yourself and that there are no limits until your body fails you – only those you put on yourself. That happiness comes from within and no matter what life throws at you, you can decide to be miserable and wallow in self-pity or embrace each day and make It the best you can no matter the circumstance. This is what he showed to everyone he met. Through it all, a smile could always be found, a twinkle in his eye, always reaching for that bit of happiness. Even as he physically weakened and changed, the smile and twinkle remained as brilliant as ever.

I am thankful for having had such an amazing man as my father. Always in my heart and mind.

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