How many times when I went to visit mourners have I heard the line: “I never thought he was going to die.” Or perhaps, its twin sister statement: “He wasn’t the type of person to die.” Many many times. And that is how I feel about my father.
Now who are we kidding? Do we think that any one of us will escape death? Intellectually perhaps not, but emotionally, contemplating death is something we would rather ignore and/or postpone. So much that by now I have probably lost half of my readers….
But when it comes to parents, I think there is something else in play. Our sages tell us that we should honor and fear our parents (which is a commandment of the Torah), not only as a mitzvah (commandment), but because if we do not honor them, if we can not be grateful for the life our parents gave us, we are unlikely to be grateful to G-d. In a way, our parents are our image of G-d. Indeed, usually a young child will “worship” his parents: they can do no wrong. As a father said to his friend: If you want to feel what worship is, have a son.
Now eventually we grow up, and unfortunately learn that our parents are human, and hopefully some where along the way, get a more sophisticated view of the Omnipresent. But somehow it seems that some of that uniqueness of our parents and their love for us, leads to our difficulty in accepting the reality that they are not here forever.
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I would like to add a word of advice to anyone who has parents who live far from them. I know of many cases where sons and daughters visit their parent when the parent is on their deathbed. Now there is nothing bad about that. But don’t wait for that. And if you have money to only visit rarely, go when your parents are well enough to enjoy your visit.
My Dad battled cancer three times over the last several years. When he got sick the third time, I resolved to go see him, despite the cost, as soon as I could. And even though he appeared to get better after a while, I went a year and a half ago to visit. I decided that I wanted to see him while we could enjoy each other’s company. We did a bit of walking together. He showed me a few of his favorite movies. We looked at family picture albums together. I am forever grateful that I did so. It was good for him, and healing for me.
If I had waited for him to get “really sick”, I would not have seen him at all.
My father with Ricki a year and a half ago.