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    Last Conversation

    As baby-boomers, we often face the realityof the death of our parents.

    Here is a column I wrote that I hope you will enjoy.

    -Dave Sable

    It was a strange blessing to get the curt
    e-mail from my dad announcing his pancreatic
    cancer. I always expected a somber call from
    the hospital telling of a sudden, massive
    heart attack. This way, there was still time.
    Maybe six months to a year, I thought.

    That was overly optimistic. My dad was
    even more positive. He figured after a little
    chemo, some radiation and a quick operation,
    he would be back on the golf course.

    Soon after the announcement, the boys and
    I made the 16-hour door-to-door trek from Boone to his home near Phoenix, Arizona - my wife and daughter went later.
    He was as thin as a rail and had trouble keeping food down - living essentially on cans of liquid nutritional supplements.

    Our last conversations took place in two-hour increments. He would tire easily. The boys and I, with notebook in hand, would delve into the past. What did he really do during World War II and the 28 years at Hughes Aircraft?
    How did he meet mom and why her - not
    all the others? What did he talk about with
    his dad in the warm steam engine room
    inside the shuttle on Hudson Bay?

    God came up as he often does in last
    conversations. Religion was a difficult subject
    for dad. He wanted to be a Rabbi at one time.
    At another, he claimed to be an Atheist. When,
    through the years I brought up religion, dad
    became angry and shut down communication.
    He took a comparative religions course once in
    college, he bellowed with authority. He knew
    all about it. It was clearly not a matter
    of facts, but emotions that formed his reaction.

    Why the explosive emotions? Dad opened a
    small portal in telling of his Bar Mitzvah.
    The synagogue scheduled the celebration
    for his Jewish rite of passage on a weekend
    after he came of age. At the last minute,
    his ceremony was bumped to a Wednesday
    night in favor of the son of a wealthy family.
    Dad was hurt and proclaimed that if his Bar
    Mitzvah did not happen on that weekend,
    it would not happen at all. It never happened.

    I wondered if that was a small glimpse of a
    series of wrongs - whether real or perceived -
    that caused him to drop his strict orthodoxy,
    marry a Catholic and cling to a religious
    perspective that had little theological depth
    other than "we ought to keep the Ten

    In the last conversations, dad was willing to
    talk of God. He was less combative, more
    resigned. My son asked him who he thought Jesus was.

    "He is the king of the Jews," replied dad
    though I wondered what that meant to him
    practically. My mind drifted to the
    mid-seventies during the height of the
    Jesus Movement. I summoned the
    courage to wear a "Jesus" pin jome
    from school. Dad never said anything.
    Nevertheless, I felt embarrassed and
    ashamed as if I had joined the Ku Klux Klan.
    Mom considered herself a Catholic but stopped
    going to church because she didn't like the
    Pope's view on birth control. With dad, you
    just never talked about religion.

    It was this spiritual void that was instrumental in my shifting from my family's non-religion to a radical Christian group that cultivated almost cult-like devotion - meetings every night of the week, all day on Sunday, Bible seminars and activities on every major holiday.
    Our group lived together, worked together,
    and spent all of our free time together.
    For twelve years, this band of believers
    became my family as I drifted away from
    my natural one operating on the premise that
    Jesus would approve of my giving absolute
    priority to God's appointments over those
    religiously lukewarm backsliders.
    After all, did not Jesus say that those
    who love father and mother more than
    him are not worthy of him?

    Back in Arizona, my son probed further.
    "Do you believe Jesus died for your sins?"
    he asked taking a cue from many Sunday school lessons.

    My dad paused thoughtfully. "Well yes,"
    he said thoughtfully, "someone had to do that."

    My son was pleased with the answer.
    Nevertheless, I knew that last
    conversations had to be more than right
    words and proper answers.
    One must deal with the emotional
    barriers of the heart lest the doctrine of
    reconciliation is merely a useless
    phylactery worn upon a Pharisee's head.

    "Dad," I said, "I know for years I was
    involved in a religious group that took
    me away from the family. I know that it
    robbed us and took away what could
    have been. I wanted to apologize for
    my role in taking away from the family.
    I'm sorry for causing us to drift apart."

    Silence filled the room as this Veteran
    WWII sailor took in the frank apology.
    I had never in my 42 years seen him
    show deep emotion yet a tear began
    to run down his face.

    "I was waiting for many years to hear that," he said with voice cracking, "I wanted to hear something like that for a long time."

    I called dad a month later, the day after he moved into hospice.
    On his move day, he had said that he was going to hospice to die yet he seemed to be in relatively good condition.

    He was not doing well on that day.
    His breathing was labored and
    he was having difficulty talking.
    "Dad? How are you doing, dad?" I asked

    "I have no idea," he heaved, "I have no idea."

    "Do they have you drugged up?
    Are you in pain?"

    "No. No pain. No pain," he said and then,
    "I have to say goodbye."

    He hung up.

    Two hours later, I received an email informing me he was gone.
    The conversations ceased.

    This is the first of three articles by the
    author chronicling the death of his father.

    Comments are welcome at
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