“It ain’t over yet.”
Those were the last words my father said to me. I can remember them so clearly.
The previous week was Thanksgiving, and my wife and three kids (our youngest hadn’t yet been born) were spending our first real vacation at our new part-time home in Charleston, S.C. On Thanksgiving morning, my dad had shared the news with me that the doctor had declared him “cancer free” earlier in the week. My dad had been fighting a combination of prostate and bladder cancer for several years. Two years earlier, the doctors had given him only four to six months to live.
My dad, however, was a fighter, and he gave it his all.
Now it appeared he had won the fight.
Two days later, on November 24, my dad and I texted back and forth as we watched our beloved Notre Dame Fighting Irish (my dad was a grad) defeat the University of Southern California Trojans to go a perfect 12-0 on the year.
The morning after that win, my dad entered the hospital. Later that night, it began to look bleak as my father’s kidneys — ravaged from years of radiation and chemo treatments — began to fail.
My mom kept me informed while my wife and I prepared for the drive back to the Chicago suburbs from Charleston. There was no rush. I was in denial.
There had been a number of similar-feeling false alarms during the previous two years. Further, the doctor had just declared my dad cancer-free. Couldn’t my dad just beat this latest challenge, as well?
As we took the 15-hour drive home, the news got darker and darker. By the time I arrived at the hospital, they began the process of palliative care. Morphine to ease the pain while my dad slipped into heaven. He was still semi-lucid when I approached his bed and held his hand. We talked about the big Notre Dame win.
“They did it,” I declared.
“It ain’t over yet,” he replied.
Was he referring to the fact that the Fighting Irish still had to play the National Championship game versus Alabama? Yes. But, to me, it meant more than that.
To me, it meant he wasn’t done fighting. And he wasn’t — holding on for another four days (we sat by his bed while he snored away in a morphine-induced sleep) until he passed away.
When I was asked to deliver the eulogy at his funeral, I chose to read from Dylan Thomas’ timelines poem, Do not go gentle into that good night.
Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
As I reflected on his final words, it struck me that my dad wasn’t just talking about Notre Dame’s season. His words were a call to action for me to fight for the freedom and fulfillment I lacked in my life.
Sure, I had built some freedom. During the past several years, I had significantly cut the number of hours I worked each day. With the help of the Gallup StrengthsFinder program, I had begun working in my “strengths zone” (more on that later) and so I was more efficient and productive.
The purchase of the vacation home in South Carolina was a big part of that freedom agenda.
As I wrote earlier, the words everyone spoke at my dad’s funeral showed me it takes more than just freedom. It also takes fulfillment.