What My Father’s Death Taught Me About Living

Oct 26, 2022 · 334 comments
Paul (Earth)
Thanks for that Saul Bellows quote, first time I’ve heard it and it’s great.
John (Fredericton, Canada)
A pessimist is someone who thinks a situation couldn't get worse. An optimist knows it could get worse.
bob (Denver)
This was beautiful.
hotGumption (Rhode Island)
Until I became a parent I was fairly blind to my myriad flaws. Those with no kids will be the only ones to escape some sort of opprobrium.
Moirai Erwar (Santa Ana, CA)
In his essay on Death, Montaigne (France, 1533-92) sets the topic as man’s abiding concern, Baruch Spinoza, (1632-77) implicitly contradicts him by marking the limit of possible rational interest: “The philosopher concerns himself with life, not with death.” Czeslaw Milosz, poet (Poland, 1911-2004), troubled off and on by the eschatology of his Catholic faith, advances in an off moment, afterlife nullity in the following memorable ‘consolation’ that rings so timelessly incredulous: “Calm down. Both your sins and your good deeds will be lost in oblivion.” Milosz negates Christianity, cf. 1 Corinthians 15: 13-14. And so, when Milosz died, there were voices who questioned burying his remains on Catholic ground, in any of Poland’s National Pantheons. Pope Saint John Paul II, however, who had met and befriended Czeslaw Milosz, whose writings he was familiar with, intervened. He assured, with plausible or improbable justification, that Milosz died a repentant and reconciled Catholic. And so, Milosz’s remains rest now, alongside those of other illustrious Poles, all supposedly Catholic, in the crypt of St. Stanlinaus’ Church, in historic, beautiful Cracow.
deanna (Florida)
Beautiful
Alex A (Santa Barbara CA)
What a beautifully written piece, thank you very much.
robert (manhattan)
A stunning and necessary piece of writing.
Cameo (San Antonio)
Fantastic wisdom for an unruly world. Thank you.
Andrew Murray (Minnesota)
It is sad that you were not wise enough to reconcile with your father before his drastic decline.
Litza (NY)
As I sit here with my own parent dying, I read your article. My parent was unbelievably a forgiving person, always finding hope and light in darkness. There are those people in this world…. Sorry for your loss. May you find peace.
atb (Chicago)
This is such valuable thinking. If only I could achieve that type of hope. I used to have it but so much bad continues to happen. It seems like every time I achieve a little peace or express a little gratitude, it gets snatched away from me. I get kicked in the gut. I do feel foolish when I am optimistic. I wish it wasn't so. In any case, I am so sorry for your loss and admire your grief process. I lost my dad, too, two years ago now. It wasn't COVID, either but we couldn't have a memorial for a whole year. So many funerals, so many memorials, so much sadness. It's really hard to be optimistic when nothing is familiar or fair.
Angela Bennett (Ontario, Canada)
Beautiful. Thank you. Daughter of my loving 93 year old father that I cannot imagine not having in my life ever.
Rita Rao (Seattle)
Death is the only certainty… living is what is fraught with uncertainty.
michjas (Phoenix)
Family members search for and frequently find meaning and purpose in the lives of those they lose to death. But much of this is self-deception. Our lives frequently expire with great suffering that tests our faith in our fate. And by the time many pass, their vitality may be a distant memory. Life’s a great trial and then you die. And those who insist on optimism can be part of the problem. Death is often a terrible trial. And those who insist on good cheer can be insufferable.
DSave (Toronto)
Your beautifully written piece resonates with me as I lost my father to cancer on October 14th. Like you, I had a complicated relationship with my father. It was painful to see him suffer, and harder than telling him that he did not have long to live was saying goodbye to him. During his final hours, and in a morphine state of incoherence, I held his hand and he became fully awake. I told him that I will miss him and that I love him and he told me that he loves me too. I said goodby and he drifted back into a deep sleep. The reality that he is no longer a part of my life is painful. Sharing your experience is comforting and healing knowing that I am not alone in my suffering.
Vinay (Maryland)
That's the power of the written word. The article and the quote from Saul Bellow resonated with my own life and brought memories flooding back. But for some reason, and to the point of feeling guilty, it's my father that I miss the most. My mother who did so much for me as is the tradition in Hindu families for the youngest son, a is always in the background. But it's always a treasure of memories. They gave us the best possible and the advice from them I did not pay heed at the time comes out so naturally out of my mouth while talking to my own two daughters. Why couldn't I make my parents happy while they were still with us!!!!
Michael Dink (Annapolis, Ms)
Thanks, Lydia, for this thoughtful and moving reflection.
TRR (NY, NY)
Thank you so much for this. My dad has cancer so it has been a sea of uncertainty. I'm trying to keep floating.
Mary (Somewhere in the boonies)
I loved this sentence: "He endured a long sojourn in the twilight of dementia." Battles and struggles seem over used and overwrought, to me. Until age 92, my mother endured that sojourn also, as did her children. You expressed these partings poignantly and eloquently. Thank you. I miss my parents every day.
ailun99 (Wisconsin)
I'm so glad you were able to talk to him before he died. My dad had dementia and was in hospice at the hospital for about 2 weeks before he died. He really wasn't "awake," but I had a strong feeling he knew what I was saying to him. I treasure the days I spent with him before he died. He and I were so very different (regarding politics, social issues, religions), yet we were also so very similar in who we were/are, and I felt so close to him. I talked and talked to him. Told him I forgave him for the mistakes he made as a dad (as a mom, I understand how many mistakes we all make), and told him how much I loved him. Those two weeks with him before he died were the most profound days of my life.
MrFun (NY/NJ)
A beautiful essay and the quote from Saul Bellow really put into words how losing a parent feels- which I have struggled to describe to friends who have not yet endured that loss. Thank you for sharing it and your words of wisdom.
Jonathan (USA)
Reading this as I sit beside my 95-year old dad, while he is slowly dying. Yes, each day we all have opportunities to connect, reconnect, disconnect, and so on.
John Anderson (Bar Harbor)
Thank you for a lovely piece.
MBS (DC)
I still haven’t gotten over my father’s death. It has been 6 years.
Kristin Loberg (Los Angeles)
Gorgeous. Crisp. Raw. Real. Thank you so much for this oh-so-truthful tribute to not only your dad, but to all the people like us who have lost a beloved parent. My dad died suddenly and unexpectedly in 2016 weeks before turning 70. He was my everything. His death shattered the family and I'm still picking up those chards of "glassy splinter"[s]. (I hope he's having a beer with your dad in heaven.) At the moment of my dad's last breath, I thought of the quote by the artist Laurie Anderson: "When my father died, it was like a whole library burned down." I have found that grief is something to love. It's a nagging companion you can't get rid of, but does it ever teach us things we could not otherwise learn. Like a terrifically good wine that should give you a painful hangover, it doesn't. Carry on, my friend. I'll tolerate the uncertainty with you. I'll minimize regret with you. And I'll walk with you holding those rules for living near and dear until the beautiful end. And keep drinking up that grief...
Dr. Jennifer Jackson (Naperville, IL)
Thank you for the humanity of this essay, for the good you and your dad will do in the world through its wisdom. I plan to discuss this my college students who veer between despair—silo politics, greed, grind culture, climate crises, gun violence, Christo-fascism, anomie… the list seems, is, endless. And yet their lives find meaning when they settle on a project and work it, daily, with hope. When they connect, letting go of certainty, just as you say. Meanwhile, Saul Bellow was exactly right about the death of our parents. Sending sympathy and light as you grieve this loss.
Joe Delaney (Brooklyn)
I lost both my parents in the space of four weeks earlier this year and despite the fact that they lived full long lives I miss them terribly. They were both optimists and taught us to enjoy life and be emotionally fearless. Let us all celebrate Dia de los Meurtos this Tuesday and Wednesday and remember those spirits.
Tom Christopher (Middletown, CT)
A powerful story. I particularly related to what the author said about optimism and vulnerability. As an environmental activist, I am surrounded by pessimism about the global future, and it is well founded. Yet if I want to reach others and try to promote action, I have to share optimism. Otherwise, what point is there in making any effort for the greater good? What I've learned is that hanging onto hope costs nothing, it makes me personally much happier, and it helps to promote constructive work by myself and others. What is coming we cannot know, but we can dedicate ourselves to beauty and to service.
Karen Spencer (Mesa Arizona)
Thank you for these wonderful and profound thoughts. I recently lost my Dad and it has hit me harder than I thought possible. I have never 'gifted' articles from the NYT until today. Thank you again.
Alec (North Carolina)
Very beautiful! You know as we all get older it’s our job to show the next generation how to die. It’s a job that we don’t really know how to do, but some how the vast majority seem to do it very well. I think the instructions are pre-baked into our genetics, we’ll know it when the time comes.
MR (USA)
What a loving tribute. May his memory be a blessing.
Reader (San Francisco)
Very very beautiful. I'm sorry for your loss - and yet, you will always have your father with you in your heart - may his optimism and hope live on in all who loved him.
Heart In The Deep (D-FW)
This piece really hit home for me. I lost my dad suddenly in 1993 when I was 22 and he was 58. Yes, it's very much like driving through a plate-glass window that you didn't know was there; yes, you never feel as if you have picked up every tiny glass shard -- there are always more. Thankfully, we still have my mom; with a little luck, she may outlive us all. But Dad, I do miss you.
NY citizen (NYC)
When my mother was in hospice, the nurses told us that hearing is the last capacity to go, she can still hear us, and to continue to speak to her. Sometimes you can observe signs that they are responding inwardly. I hope you have comfort that your father did indeed know and sense your love for him up to the end.
Kai (Here)
I just lost my mother to pancreatic cancer a few weeks ago. It was unexpected, fast-moving and relentless. The Bellow quote really fits, I’m sure for the rest of my life I will be examining the shards of glass. But I took heart at your wife’s thoughts about tolerating uncertainty. Thank you for expressing such a beautiful tribute to your father.
Vanessa Hall (TN)
Absolutely beautiful. My father died a little over a month ago just a few days short of his 89th birthday. He wanted to make it to 90 as “the last chapter of his book was incomplete” he had told me earlier this year. He made his three daughters the center of his life, pushing us and wanting us to want more. And we all did. This opinion piece made me cry, for the first time in a week or two as I struggle to move forward. Thank you.
michjas (Phoenix)
Never talk about those with dementia in the past tense. My mother remained a hot shot bridge player after her mind was gone. And beating lesser players gave her what we all most need to the very end. Purpose.
LBarkan (Tempe, AZ)
"We live in a time dominated by pessimism and cynicism. These poses are a kind of armor against the vulnerability of hope. To be cynical is to close the door to the possibility of disappointment. To be pessimistic is to foreclose the risk of being made a fool by optimism." Thank you for this brilliant piece of writing. The quote accurately reflects my state of mind. I have so much difficulty believing in a world of integrity when it appears that without integrity you can get away with anything. The mid term elections will tell us who we are as human beings. I am not optimistic. I'm fearful of "being made a fool by optimism."
Dr. Jennifer Jackson (Naperville, IL)
My thoughts exactly. What a gift this essay was for me today.
Constance (NYC)
I've been feeling so discouraged and beaten down lately. I've become cynical and bitter - characteristics I never thought I'd possess, but your words lifted my spirits. Thank you for this.
Helen (California)
This article touched me and allowed me to grieve. My father passed away 5 months ago. The tragedy of it was I have not been able to see him the last 3 years due to severe COVID restrictions in Asia. Once it opened up, I made a plane reservation but he died within 2 weeks. I eventually made it there, but missed his funeral. I was able to spend quality time with my elderly mother and help her get through a difficult time. My dad told me to always be kind and appreciate people, just like Lydia's father, "be an optimist". My dad never complained, even when he was in pain and lost all dignity at the very end. Thank you for this - I really appreciate this important message of love.
Satya (Upstate NY)
I lost my mother 2 years ago and stopped talking to my dad who lives thousands of miles away from me about 2 months ago, the anniversary was too bitter to handle. I am still stuck in grief, guilt, and a grave full of confessions with everything that happened in the last 5-6 years of my life, it has been terrifying to process it. I have been crumbling in confusion and breaking apart my mental health, I could not do anything in life. Picking on from Saul Bellow's quote, I think I have all the glass pieces stuck in my chest, poking my heart, maybe the 20s amidst a pandemic aren't the right time for this. I could start therapy for myself very recently and your words were so touchy that I'd read thousand times when I can gather the courage to grieve. Thank you. I had to weep and wipe tears from the first line of yours: so harsh was Mom's burial with her COVID-19 on top of the 2nd relapse of malignant carcinoma. I still wish a million things were different from what they were in her last days. It is so hard to let go of the bitter last months, weeks, and life when my father although he was the only one who cared, was somehow the reason for us not being beside her in the Intensive care unit. I am glad you wrote this as I realize I must try to forgive myself and my dad, I wish I do gather and will be successful in being the other side of realizing your last line. Thank you for that and sorry for your loss.
Dr. Jennifer Jackson (Naperville, IL)
I am sorry it is so intolerably hard - cannot imagine what it must be like to be young in this broken world, and to lose our anchors. You stated what you must do for yourself: love what goodness you can bring forward. Work. Trust yourself. Seek help and support, staying vulnerable to the goodness of others.
Charlie Miller (Ellicott City, MD)
Beautiful.
Neeraj (United Kingdom)
Such a nice and touching story, so close to my heart
Wabi-Sabi (Montana)
Pessimism is sometimes just honesty without makeup. Some of us would rather start with honesty, and see where it leads us.
Socrates (Downtown Verona, NJ)
Giddy-up, Wabi-Sabi !
Sita (Boston, MA)
Dear Lydia, So sorry about your dad and for your loss. I can connect with you a lot about many points you made and described experiencing, as they related to my journey being with my dad as he was dying, I talked to him while hoping he heard me, and reflecting after his burial on what life lessons he taught me. And here’s an additional one I’d like to offer, for both our dying loved ones and us: Yes, it’s true, there is never a “last,” but instead always a “next” possibility. I hope, and I sense that does, make sense also to you and likewise did for your soulful father.
lynn (somerville ma)
beautiful essay getting to the essential poignance of living and dying. well said!
Bronnie Raver (Roslyn, NY)
Grateful and appreciate this letter.
MagneticPandaHerd (Ithaca, NY)
Thank you for this! It feels uphill some days to keep the optimism alive but I know a view change takes sustained effort. Thanks for sharing :)
bluewater (Chicagoland)
Thank you for this lovely, moving essay that captures many of the experiences most of us have had over the past two years. I was reminded of the wonderful Irish toast so filled with pathos: "Here's to those we've loved and lost, to those who are with us, and to those who are yet to be ours." Past, present, and future generations.
CNK (Albany, NY)
Thank you for this piece. It resonates with me in several ways. I celebrated what would have been my father's birthday yesterday, without him for the third year, by visiting the cemetery with my mom, who has breast cancer. I'm also facing my own serious diagnosis, and at 53, thinking a lot about how I want to leave this world and what to do with the time I have left. The uncertainty is the biggest challenge. There's no road map for dying and there are no do-overs. We all just have to hope we get it right the first, and only, time.
stumpnugget (iowa)
I will read this many more times as my dad, a complicated person to say the least, prepares for death and struggles with dementia. It has been a horror show for us because he is few of the things that the father in this story was. He is cynical, angry, confused, and often mean. We don't know what to do. We need help, to tell the truth. Sometimes he rages for hours. Shaking, screaming, crying. It is so hard. He has always been difficult, but never like this. He is in pain, mental and physical, so my heart goes out to him. But the toll he is taking on my mom and my siblings is difficult to bear. I hope for a quick and peaceful end. Thank you for these wonderful words. What a joy it was for me to read about your experience with your father. Thank you.
Kai (Here)
I’m so sorry you are coping with such a difficult situation, I’ve been dealing with a somewhat similar, stressful family member after my mother’s death. I wish there were better resources available for coping with abusive family members at the end of their lives, or after they lose a partner.
stumpnugget (iowa)
@Kai Thank you Kai. It is very difficult. And it's largely hidden. All of these painful interactions happen behind closed doors. I wish we had better resources too. I'm sorry your family is going through this too. It probably doesn't help much to know this, but you're not alone!
Rita Rao (Seattle)
So true. Hope he and you find peace.
Jennifer Fritz (Montreal)
I just love this.
Maryrose (New York)
I lost one parent when I was very young and the other parent in my mid-50s. You never get over it. You miss them forever, whether you got along with them or not. I am sorry for your loss. Your column was thoughtful and lovely.
Alflinn (Texas)
My children lost their beloved father (and I my partner of 40 years) in 2020 to a fast moving cancer. We are all still grieving. I will be sharing your words with the family. Thank you.
Danielle (USA)
What a beautiful tribute. Losing a parent is so hard. I lost my dad in my teens and my mom, who I was very close to despite our differences, five years ago. I'm still picking up the pieces of that window pane that I didn't know was there. It's an odd feeling, being alone in the world for the first time (I am an only child). My mom taught me that everyone has a voice, she taught me to love nature and animals and to want to help people. With somewhat hippie parents in the 70s I got to experience a lot of things that opened my eyes to the world in ways that my friends with more conservative parents did not and for that I am grateful. My mom had gay friends as early as I can remember, and it was so natural to me that when I was old enough to realize the hatred toward the gay community I was baffled by it - why was this not just normal for these other people? I am glad to read your tribute to your father, and realizing our parents did the best they could is a gift of acceptance and love that we give them as well as ourselves.
Gena (Kansas)
This piece makes me cry. I know I have a very thick shield of pessimism to shield my heart from the many pieces I've had to pick-up off the floor and I do not want to do it again. Not all forms of love are real.
EK (SoCal)
A thoughtfully written piece that I didn't realize I needed, but am so thankful to have read. Sincerely, Overly anxious Type A reader who unexpectedly lost her father at 25
William Peerman (Nashville)
Beautiful. As you touch us all, may we touch you back. With gratitude.
LL (Earth)
Wisdom. Thank you for sharing from the heart. On the subject of bodily death, evidence such as from near death experiences point to this world being a stop for learning on our journey. Peace to you.
Hk (Planet Earth)
A beautiful article, reminding me of my dad's last days. He was a very smart man who could be very cutting and mean at times. I started his eulogy by asking if there was anyone present who my dad did NOT offend, insult or embarrass at some point, and, if so, to please raise their hand. No one did. We all got a good chuckle out of that. The lesson was that it wasn't anything than any of us did to deserve that treatment. It was just the way that he drove through life.
ElevenN (Idaho)
and at my mother's funeral, I began my eulogy with, "We all have our own (mom's name) stories..." I am glad your family and friends gathered at your father's funeral were able to laugh at your comment. I am sad to admit that our hurt runs deep. This essay is poignant and timely for me, and I appreciate your comments about it.
Emily (Fresno)
So touching. And honestly, very good advice for all.
Jeb (Out yonder...)
My wife's best friend in quick succession lost her husband (heart attack and in his early 50's), her 20-something son (Covid 19), and her mother (heart attack in her 80's). We've tried on numerous occasions to contact her since her husband's death but she refuses, no doubt due to the incredible pain this must cause her. There are sometimes situations so tragic that the human mind is simply not able to deal with it.
hotGumption (Rhode Island)
@Jeb That is far too much pain. Perhaps you could write some letters full of kindness.
greg (new york)
Thanks for sharing. A father is and does so much for a family that can go unnoticed; like allowing the mother to be a mother.
hotGumption (Rhode Island)
@greg Absolutely true Greg. As a single mother I missed out on that equation. Good one.
Jack Hartman (Appalachian Trail)
I lost my dad to a sudden heart attack when he was only 53 and I was ten. He had worked his way up the ladder at the state highway department over a 27 year career there and started making real money for a few year after that with a private construction company. He certainly helped instill in me a love of reading and he never made fun of my dream to someday visit the wild places in this world. We had just started taking memorable vacations a couple of years before he died but we hadn't done the "wild places" yet. And that was his final gift to me, although unintended I'm sure. And it was to not put off your dreams for the sake of a career. My family and I lived in five countries overseas and half that time was spent in Africa where I did more safaris than I can count. We also visited over 40 countries and all that travel has given me a trove of memories. I'm so glad we did it when we were young (one daughter was two and the other just three weeks old when I took them to Yemen to live on our first overseas post). My wife was able to enjoy those memories with me and our two daughters before she passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2018. As I think now about my daughters and four grandchildren I take a certain amount of pride for having "given" them the chance to see places and do things few people have enjoyed. Already they've lived their own lives in places like South Africa, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Jordan and Congo. Great memories have a way of crowding out the regrets.
DrJohn (Rockford, Illinois)
Thank you for sharing your personal story. This was a very inspiring piece. Your father must have been very proud of you.
Susan Livesey (Roseland,NJ)
What a blessing your article was! It touched my heart and gave me many new learning skills in navigating through the loss of my dad and living with my mom who’s 94. I treasure her everyday! Dad passed away four years ago at 95. Your description perfectly described what I’m going through. Walking through a plate glass window that you didn’t know was there!! Thank you for sharing on increasing tolerance for living with uncertainty and not knowing! That was definitely meant for me to let it go and be in the moment! I'm learning to take baby steps as well! Thank you Lydia!
Susie (Nashville)
Such beautiful words. Thank you.
LoveNOtWar (USA)
“I try to help them increase their tolerance for uncertainty,” she told me. In the absence of answers, she tried to help them live with not knowing." In Korean Zen, there is a concept called Don't Know Mind. If you go to dharmaseed.org, you will find talks exploring this idea. What Don'r Know Mind means to me is that since I don't know, I might as well wash the dishes, take out the trash, and spend time with my daughter and granddaughter who is now in 6th grade. I don't know what will happen next but I do my best to make life easy and fun for my family in the here and now.
S Venkatesh (Chennai, India)
Only Americans, atleast in the past decade, have an overpowering need for certainty & knowing everything about the future. Americans wanted to know for sure wearing masks prevented Covid. The rest of the world was satisfied that it helps reduce the risk. Americans wanted to be sure vaccines would prevent Covid, would be totally safe. The rest of the world was satisfied vaccines prevented serious illness from Covid, would have mostly mild side effects. This has only made Americans most vulnerable. In large parts of the World, Hinduism & Christianity teach the faithful to pray God for the strength to face adversity, not for a certain future with no adversity. The ancient Hindu text, Bhagavad Gita, says happiness & sorrow must be considered equal - the same - as also profit & loss and victory & defeat. Consider all events equal & keep peace in the mind.
Harley Leiber (Portland OR)
Tears are streaming now. Thank you. When my dad passed away 10 years ago this November, at 88.5 years of age, I felt the loss wash over me at the times I least expected it. Then I realized I was in situations or places where we had been or conversed or navigated or he had exposed me to. As a kid, I'd go to the office with him and watch how he helped his clients. As a CPA he saw his role as much broader that just crunching their numbers and doing their taxes. He did all of that but was also their counselor, friend and guide. As the father of 5 he dealt with us all with love and kindness and humor. Lots of humor. As the father of an MRDD child I watched him raise money for the place my brother lived, stay connected to my brother throughout his life, , and always prioritize "Jonny's needs" ...While not always agreeing with our career choices he always supported them. And with my malignantly narcissistic mother he simply " hung in there" and did the best he could even though it was never enough. I miss my dad every single day but his influence continues to inform my life and decisions. Frankly, I don't know where I'd be without him as my dad. He was the glue in our family and when he died the void was real but now our memories keep him alive. It's funny, my mom died at 98.5 this past February and though I've tried to grieve and "miss" her I simply cannot. Her grotesque selfishness was total. Maybe some day I will....but for now her absence is simply a relief. Miss you Bud!!
C. Miller (San Jose)
Lovely. Thank you.
Kenny G (Brooklyn)
What a piece! Thank you!!
Matthew M (Chicago)
Beautiful writing. I have Witnessed during the Dark Age of the AIDS Plague over some 78 friends (stopped counting) Involved personally with more than 34 people in their final days…. Often in that most precious Time, clarity shines through, the important things in life are realized… In summary, many of the closet people who have departed to their “ New Wonderful Becoming” have all expressed iterations of “Be There” for each other. Starting with the departing journey of my first Love, Kevin, age 30 and than many more over the years… Be There … Those words above reflect the Wisdom that often comes with “death” see Aeschylus Awful Grace of God Or Thich Nhat Hanh No Death, No Fear: Comforting Wisdom for Life…and his small (No of pages) but LARGE on Wisdom  “True Love”
Peter (Queens)
Many people have bad families. They won't miss them when they're gone.
Kathy (New Jersey)
Excellent article
Janet DiLorenzo (N.Y. N.Y.)
A beautiful learning experience about death. Death is inevitable. We all pray that it is peaceful for all we love.
danofdot (Massachusetts)
Grateful for your heartfelt wisdom. Your Dad sounds like a remarkable person for the gifts he passed on to you and, through you, to the rest of us.
Peggotty (RI)
Just great. I urge everyone to read recent book, "Life is Hard" by MIT prof. Kieran Setiya. Silly self-help title, brilliant challenging material on similar topics to those in this column. I plan to read it again soon.
Tw (New Jersey)
Tears in my eyes...
Steve G. (Los Angeles)
I hate to hear the phrase, "If I had to live my life again, I'd do it the exact same way." What a waste. Nice story. I especially liked what you said about a "life devoid of cynicism and pessimism."
Barbara James (NYC)
This really spoke to me: "Tolerate uncertainty. Normalize feelings. Minimize regret. Know that people have the capacity to change and connect, right up to the end." It's important to remember this, because not all of us will be present when a parent dies. That's the uncertainty. As for minimizing regret, it's important to take the necessary steps to ensure that there will be no regrets. All we can do is connect the best we can in the present.
Monty (Nashville)
There is great wisdom here. it goes way beyond the optimist-pessimist duo to a core of insight at a deeper level. thanks for sharing
Kayaker (OR)
Profoundly moving and appropriate at this time in my life. What so resonated with me was our "needto fix upon a certainty as an anchor in the rough seas of our times. But to tolerate uncertainty is to become buoyant, able to bob in the waves, no matter the tide". These words will be kept close to my heart. Thank you.
lehomme (marin1950)
"...but he remained committed right up to the end to the idea that burial helps the soul escape the body." No offense - but what a strange concept.
H.H. (Boston)
Gorgeous, moving and timely piece.
Frank (Louisiana)
I lost my own father April 14, 2022 and found your article deeply moving and profound, especially your Saul Bellow quote, which I intend to remember. God bless you and your family in your grief, and please know your thoughts and words have helped me, and I imagine many others, cope with the loss of a loved one. Thank you.
kate grant (santa clara, ca)
I lost both of my parents in the last year and your piece spoke to the deepest parts of my shattered heart. Thank you so very much for sharing your meditation and insights.
Lisa (NYC)
Beautiful writing. Simple, and not overly indulging in fancy writerly-speak. ;-)
ilovesocialjustice (Kansas)
Many thanks to the author. This is the time of year when my grief pulls up a chair and stares into my soul.
diane (seattle)
This resonated deeply... I would add that a sense of humor to accompany the difficulties we all inevitably encounter is a necessary part of not only getting though but embracing life's rich pageant...Thank you for your beautiful writing. And deepest sympathy's for your loss.
Paul King (USA)
My flood of emotions and thoughts and relatability to this stunning writing are too much to tap onto the screen. I'll merely say bless you for turning on so many lights in my often dark soul touched by loss. In memory of my sweet, gentle mother who passed November 8, 2021.
Connie (Boston)
Such a powerful, resonant piece. I lost my father 27 years ago, and the more time goes by the more I understand and appreciate everything that he gave me in life beyond the tremendous blessing of a loving home. I just have to believe that he knows now what I somehow never had the self-awareness to be able to express then.
Gramie 2RMJ (CA)
WOW! This piece was so powerful in the most unassuming ways. I can clearly see now that my adulation for my own father is my own reality. My father hustled everyday of his life to meet my mother's expectations. He was a square peg constantly squeezing himself to fit into a round hole. Most of the time my mother tolerated my dad - being the oldest I experienced a man and woman who raised six kids in less than 900 square feet and had no clue what they were doing or could've/should've done. Many of us have a story of parents living and dying - this piece forced me to see the reality of one's life and death right in front of me. I buried my father stoically for my mother and siblings - I have placed him on a pedestal for his hustle to the end and the life he struggled through to support for his family. Thank you Ms. Polgreen.
E (NYC)
This is so very beautiful. 'The things he failed to provide were nothing compared with what he had given me'. This is what we should all think of when ruminating about the past instead of thinking our lives would be better if we got what we wanted or even needed at that time. I am not a parent, but for the lucky people who came from loving families (I did), I know we're all learning the same things at different intervals in our lives. Your Father sounds like he was a giving soul indeed.
Ken (Bethesda, MD)
This was a beautifully written essay. In addition to the advice given here, I would add the importance of resilience from curveballs life throws our way, including death, job loss and health issues, as well as the importance of humor in helping us normalize our lives.
Beth (Chicago)
This meant so much to read, grappling with some immediate profound relatively recent losses. There is indeed so much to learn in loss. I am so grateful for the gift of your writing.
Dorinda (Angelo)
This is such a beautiful piece - thank you so much. I did not get to say goodbye to either of my parents; my mom died during Covid - though not from it - and my dad died suddenly from a heart attack. It is such a gift to have that closure though I've worked through not being able to say those precious last words. Thank you again from this eternal optimist.
Maura (Northeast)
Thank you for sharing this beautiful reflection. It really touched me and I learned so much from it. You are an eloquent writer.
Molly Hardman (Lyons, CO)
What a beautiful, beautiful essay - thank you!
Tim (Texas)
Nothing means more to me than someone keeping it real, looking at the big picture and sharing their story with their whole heart and mind. Your father's compassion and optimism live on to inspire others now. Thank you for sharing this beautiful essay.
David Fore (Oakland, Ca)
"A set of maps for navigating a broken world on a dying planet. Tolerate uncertainty. Normalize feelings. Minimize regret. Know that people have the capacity to change and connect, right up to the end." Nicely put
Axiom (South)
A pessimist seeing clouds worries it will rain. An optimist ignores the clouds. A realist carries an umbrella.
shabnam Mirchandani (Pittsburgh, PA)
You have baptized this moment with your with your life-affirming words. They are so resonant for so many of us who feel vulnerable, yet hopeful, who want to love unabashedly and soulfully, but hesitate because of the loss of the hospitable spirit of empathy around us. Loss and pain teach us life lessons as you have shown with such eloquence, and they even bring a kind of quiet joy when we can turn the tide within ourselves and pay homage to what each moment brings. Your essay will bring solace to many because it is about all of us - our daily conflicts, our joys, our yearning to be seen, to connect, and to live in the embrace of possibility, and yes, optimism.
Anne (New York)
One of the finest pieces of writing that I have ever read, especially being able to accept uncertainty with a blend of optimisism and reality.
Dennis (Oregon)
Good piece with a strong story. However, I object to this homocentric phrase at the end, "a broken world on a dying planet." A "broken world" is of our own making. It is not a given unless we make it so. Perhaps the author meant it this way, but these days we need to be careful about trashing the future of our children, who cannot perceive their diminished prospects. And the planet will not end with the dying out of homo sapiens. In fact it likely will be reset and reborn. The keystone species on this planet are not human beings. It is the bacteria who originally fashioned our atmosphere and moderate the fecundity of the earth so they continue to live.
Kathy Lollock (Santa Rosa)
Your father heard your words of love and gratitude as he lay dying, Lydia. The last sense to go is that of hearing; and regardless of what the "books" tell us, those with diagnosed dementia, I believe, still understand love and thankfulness for their lives. Although in a number of ways your dad differed from my recently deceased husband and cherished father to our daughters, their souls were of a kindred spirit. Like your father, my partner in life was a stellar example of a life "devoid of cynicism and pessimism." Indeed, he was a dreamer and optimist; his gift to his family was that throughout his life he saw those aspirations come to fruition. Yet, even if he was deprived of that which he most hoped to come true, his soul, like your dad's, was a good and pure one never giving on for the cause of good.
New Eyes (Clovis, California)
Time does not work like we think it does. As Wordsworth said. "the child is father to the man"--it is what we teach ourselves about ourselves at the age of 4 or 5. The ability to tolerate uncertainty or not having immediate cogitive closure in the moment opens our minds to new possibilities. Abraham Lincoln was one of those who could do so. throughout his life he was concerned with purpose--making a difference and proving himself worthy of helping others and he grew stronger. In fact after being shot, his shirt was removed, revealing powerful and muscular arms even though he had not done physical work for years. He had also a night dream 2 weeks prior where he saw himself lying in state, and was serene in the short period between the end of the war and his own death. And in fact, his last words before departing the White House to Ford's Theater to his cabinet were: "I'll go, but I'd rather stay." We are all more than we present on the surface and somewhere deep within, we know this as a fact. It is at the moment of passing that the vestibule between the world and the afterlife is open for communication between the two.
Rose Joseph (New York, NY)
A beautiful meditation. Gratitude. I am reminded of the closing passage of a favorite work of mine, "The Optimism of Uncertainty" by the great Howard Zinn: "An optimist isn’t necessarily a blithe, slightly sappy whistler in the dark of our time. To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places–and there are so many–where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory."
Lydia Polgreen (The New York Times)
@Rose Joseph What a wonderful quote from Howard Zinn. I have not read that book and will be sure to look it up. I think the point he makes is so important - blind optimism is not the thing. It is a grounded sense of knowing the world as it is and thinking that things can be better anyway. Thanks so much for writing.
Brenda Piampiano (Oquossoc, ME)
@Rose Joseph : A lovely comment. The metaphor of a spinning top is perfect. Who knows what behavioral nudge will send the future into a more positive (or negative) direction. The power of one person's action in a single moment is limitless for good or ill. It recalls one of my favorite quotes (uncertain as to its origin; the gist of it is...): " Yesterday is History. Tomorrow is a Mystery. But TODAY? Today is a Gift. That's why we call it the PRESENT." Seize the present moment and accept the chance to give the gift of greater ease, comfort, even a slightly better direction. The consequence of tiny actions may be profound.
EAB (84, PA)
@Brenda Piampiano Years ago I heard Mike Ditka say this on an ESPN show more than once. I don’t know the origin, maybe he is quoting it? Maybe he created it?! I have thought of it many times since, thanks for mentioning it! Enjoy your present!
Trisha Houser (Durham, NC)
Like other commenters, this so moved me. Thank you, Lydia Polgreen, for writing this. And deepest sympathies for your loss.
Kathleen (Washington, D.C.)
Thank you for writing such a beautiful essay. Right from the start you achieved something very difficult by acknowledging and normalizing the tremendous losses experienced by so many of us in the last few years. Before my brother died a year ago in August he implored us to come up with a way to talk about death. It does help to embrace uncertainty and the possibility for change even at the last moment.
Marge Keller (Midwest)
Thank you for such a beautifully written and heartfelt article about your dad and the relationships which touched your life. I am very sorry that he passed and that you endured so many recent deaths in such a short time. I thought that quote from Saul Bellow was rather profound and equally intriguing. I respected my dad on many levels but also resented him on other levels. How he hurt my mother for years is something I could never accept but after she died, he was so consumed with guilt and shame, I no longer felt anger towards him, only sadness. When he died, I felt zero heartwarming feelings for him then as when he was alive. I felt worse being an orphan than merely losing my father. What made me cry was seeing my oldest brother taking both palms of his hands and wiping the tears from his eyes and cheeks. That memory is as fresh today as it was over 30 years ago. He was a person who never showed emotions but he was crushed when our father died and seeing him in that coffin. Both my parents taught their kids through their actions the gifts of conservation, of caring for and giving back to the land and nature. They also taught me to live within my means and be happy to have a home with heat, running water, a garden in the back and livestock in the barn. We weren't rich but had just enough to get by. Through their examples I learned to appreciate the beauty of nature and the joy of simplicity.
Suzanne (United Kingdom)
@Marge Keller I too have felt like an orphan. Both my parents still alive. My Dad is 80. I appreciate your thoughts. I have had the same ones.
WestchesterPeach (Cross River, NY)
@Marge Keller, I was hoping you would read and comment on this remarkable essay, knowing and appreciating your past reflections on your beloved mother from other essays. I was unaware of your relationship with your father and applaud you for sharing the hard parts of being a daughter. It takes courage to face our demons. Hopefully, some of that pain can be absorbed by Lydia’s eloquent prescription for reconciliation. Being a daughter is the one thing I miss the most in life and that no amount of money can buy. We orphans are a resilient tribe and staying positive and connected is a gift. I send you strength and peace as I eulogize my father-in-law this weekend while re-grieving my own parents’ deaths. Gratitude to all.
Lydia Polgreen (The New York Times)
@Marge Keller Thank you for this. Connecting with my siblings and really deeply talking about our experiences, laughing and crying together, has been so healing. Most cultures teach us to venerate our parents, and having ambivalent feelings about them, especially when they are dying or gone, feels taboo. And yet it is the most natural and normal thing in the world. Creating space for it is so important.
Tamar (Denver, CO)
Thanks for sharing such a poignant life story and heartfelt tribute to your father. I lost my father over twenty years ago, yet I find myself still learning life lessons from him: acknowledge your feelings without judgment; realize that though you can make plans much of life is beyond our control; and that while it's okay to set boundaries regarding any toxic people in your life, take a moment to feel some compassion for them as well. Though I struggle with it at times, I try to emulate his kindness. I miss him dearly, yet I take comfort in his parting words, that he would always be with me.
Mark Young (California)
Life is very much like climbing Mt. Everest. At a certain point, you enter the “death zone” where danger and death is the one defining characteristic. Yes, you can prepare and mitigate some of the risk but death is always present. So too as you age. I notice more frequently the age of people passing when those ages are close to mine. Just this past Monday, a former secretary of defense died from a heart attack at home. He was 68, just a few months younger than I. For whatever reason, his death bothered me because it was so sudden. He looked reasonably fit and healthy in his photos. There are no guarantees. Most of us value life. Take solace in everyday that you are here. Make sure to take care of the things that you cherish. Remember to be kind. It is the only true power that you have.
Chloe (Massapequa NY)
“But to tolerate uncertainty is to become buoyant, able to bob in the waves, no matter the tide” what a beautiful and eloquent thought. Those words truly resonated with me.
Ttmnegril (Princeton, NJ)
This really moved me - particularly about the courage it takes to be an optimist. Thank you for sharing such profound and beautiful sentiments.
Eric S (Brooklyn)
What a beautiful essay. I’ve recently delved into Buddhist readings and some Eckhart Tolle, and I found the lessons shared here reinforce many of the ideas I’ve learned from those readings about acceptance and uncertainty. I would go further and say we shouldn’t just tolerate uncertainty, we should rest in it and embrace it. It may be the truest truth we know: we cannot know the future. The moment that matters is the present. We need to make the most of it, and be careful about the narratives we create around our past and future.
Whitneyd. (NYC)
I used this same philosophy when thinking about the passing of my husband whose life I shared for almost 50 years. Thank you for sharing this.
Janet (Kansas City)
Touching essay and beautifully written.
Marie Daniels (San Jose)
Sorry for your loss, but thanks for the article. We know losing a parent is a traumatic loss, but I wasn’t prepared for how much I’ve learned from losing my mom. She was always such a worrier, and I’m prone to anxiety as well. But after losing her, I realize how short life really is and that it’s a waste to spend too much of it fretting. You realize what really matters…and what doesn’t. Also, I’m getting involved in the org Compassion and Choices after seeing my mom die from Lewy Body Dementia. I have no intention of putting myself or my family members through such a horrific illness that is going to end in death anyway. My body, my choice!
Chris Hill (Durham, NC)
I have rarely read such a profound and beautiful essay in the NYT. I wish I knew you and your wife, Ms. Polgreen. All the best.
Mark (West Orange, NJ)
Thank you for sharing your beautiful story, Lydia.
CAFolden (PacNW)
This writing, so beautiful it makes me want to weep. What an incredibly gifted, wise, tender hearted soul. I’ll seek out more of her work.
Rosemary (Florida)
What a beautifully written essay. Thank you.
Maria Saavedra (Los Angeles)
“You have to be incredibly vulnerable to admit that you think the world can be better, to believe that what you do could actually make some kind of change.” This is a beautiful ode to a father but an essential message to all of us wondering what we should be doing in this confusing time. We should be loving, searching, listening, traveling, and tolerant as best we can of the unknown. We must take risks in order to create something great or consistently serve those that are more vulnerable and in that way, we feel and provide comfort while the world swirls around us.
CAFolden (PacNW)
What a beautiful response to this beautiful essay, thank you. I’m taking your words to heart.
KWS (South Carolina)
Lydia -- I cannot thank you enough for this touching, beautifully written, and extremely thought-provoking article. I expect it to stay in my thoughts for quite a long time.
khilwig (Seattle, WA)
Thank you for sharing this beautiful essay on what it means to live in the face of dying (and to live as we all do, in the face of uncertainty). I also work as a social worker with those who are dying and your essay, and your wife's reflections, capture the heart of what I do and why I find such meaning in it. Thank you.
Amy (Minnesota)
"The vulnerability of hope" Thank you for this beautiful, and articulate article and sharing the journey of your relationship with your father. I will not forget about the vulnerability of hope.
DG (Kirkland)
Beautiful piece. You have your father’s optimism, it’s clear.
Dr. T (United States)
I send condolences; I am sorry for your loss. Thank you for writing this wonderful piece. It sounds like your father taught you how to see with the heart, the gift of a lifetime.
Call Me Ishmael (Rockaway Beach, NY)
Ms. Polgreen, this is the most stunningly poignant article I have ever read within the confines of this newspaper. As you relate so eloquently, the essential viewpoint to make your life more filled with quiet grace is acceptance. Acceptance of change, of uncertainty and, ultimately, acceptance of the fact that we will someday die. My dear Mother, who passed away in 2018 at age 93, taught me in loving actions the same peaceful acceptance that you just taught us in your blessed words. Thank you, Ms. Polgreen, my eternal gratitude to you, your late parents, and your story that will stay with me forever.
David Chandler (Seattle)
To radically and enthusiastically embrace vulnerability and uncertainty in the midst of our human condition, and from that be grateful, loving and compassionate - that really says it all. I have lost both of my sons and my beautiful wife and yet I am incredibly grateful for having them as long as I did. I still have an amazing daughter and now have a dream-come-true woman in my life - who lost her husband last year. Life brings us many treasures. We just need the courage to embrace it all.
CAFolden (PacNW)
You’ve mastered the art of grieving beautifully, lovingly, finding gratitude despite stunning pain. I know from experience it is not an easy feat. Please accept my admiration and my condolences. I’m glad love surrounds you.
Lydia Polgreen (The New York Times)
@David Chandler I am so sorry for your loss, and it means so much to me that my words resonated with you.
Bean (California)
An excellent example of why we read the NYT - articles that are thought-provoking, honest and apt for the times. Thank you Polgren for an amazing piece and it has helped me clear my thoughts to write of my own father's passing. Please keep up the good work!
Ellen K-B (California)
Thank you for sharing. Your memories and insights are a blessing.
J. M. Sorrell (Northampton, MA)
Thank you for one of the finest NY Times columns I have ever read, Ms. Polgreen. It brought me back to my own father's death 12 years ago. He was a very different sort than your dad yet I too learned about serving others and helping people in the world from him. When I came out as a lesbian in my early adulthood, he and my mom did not offer support of any kind. When my mom was ill and dying--four years prior to my dad--no one expected me to show up. She could be abusive towards me and had an alcohol problem. But of course I showed up! I am a health care advocate and my skills came in handy. With no expectation for outcome, I simply did what was needed. As a result, my dad and I became very close, and he loved my partner and largely got over his biases. We spent 4 meaningful and fun years before he passed, and I was able to help him through his final week in a hospice facility. If I had held onto my disappointment for being rejected or not understood, I would never have received the numerous gifts I did for keeping my heart open. Yes, Ms. Polgreen, it is never too late to change and to connect. Spot on. May your dad rest in peace.
Lydia Polgreen (The New York Times)
@J. M. Sorrell Thank you so much for sharing this. I didn't get to include this in the column, but one of the most touching things my father did was leave his religion because of its stance over homosexuality after I came out. It had been a blind spot for him, and once he realized it he chose me. At the time I probably didn't appreciate that as much as I should have. I am really glad that you had those last years with your dad.
ELS (SF Bay)
@Lydia Polgreen More than anything else, this statement moved me to tears. So profound to have your parent choose you and your reality over their religion and its view of the world.
J. M. Sorrell (Northampton, MA)
@Lydia Polgreen Thank you for writing your reply to me. I was raised Catholic. My parents were in my life at arm's length through much of my adulthood, and I kept hoping things would change. When I became a Justice of the Peace in 2004 to serve couples of all kinds to get married in Massachusetts, it became more profound than I imagined (800 plus couples and counting). I told my dad back then, and I'll never forget that he said, "As lifelong Catholics, your mother and I cannot fathom this." That was more disappointing than the coming out bit 22 years earlier. Yet it was clear in his final years that my dad was proud of me. He may not have totally understood me, but he saw how his Catholic retirement community embraced my partner and me, how the nun who ran things really loved us, etc. I think by then he felt floored that he wasted years "worrying about what the neighbors would think." His community just saw that we showed up with love. So much learning all the way around. I love that your dad made a conscious choice for you. His unconventional ways no doubt served him in this. I have seen families come around for weddings, and, sadly, some who choose religion over their loved ones.
Renee (Ontario Canada)
Thank you so much for this beautiful piece... Renee
Bboon (Truckee, CA)
Beautiful piece of writing. Sorry for your loss.
LWA (San Francisco)
Question: HOW do we help another person minimize regret? I would think that when someone is expressing grief or regret about something important, it might not be very helpful to say, “Oh, no, you shouldn’t feel that way.”
jack (Boston)
@LWA from my perspective, it is important to feel the feelings, acknowledge the loss, grieve if needed. but! not to get lodged in it. To be able to learn something from the loss - integrate it into our being. Then the regret can help shape future decisions. If we can learn to appreciate, maybe even love who we are right now... and realize that these regrettable events were formative, that we wouldn't be who we are without them, then acceptance can happen.
LWA (San Francisco)
@jack Thank you. I’m with you exactly. Here’s the situation: My father is dying and is expressing major regrets and disappointments, weeping as he confides things I never had any inkling of. I am tormented by the idea that he will spend his final weeks thinking his life has been a failure in some way, but what do I say in those moments that honors what he has shared with me while also steering away from regret?
JPL (Northampton MA)
@LWA I'm not sure Polgreen is telling us to help another minimize regret...She's speaking to us, each of us, about how we, each of us, might negotiate living. I hear that she's encouraging compassion for both ourselves and others. I'm a believer that it is impossible to be alive and not have regrets. How can you be alive and not look back on things you wish you hadn't done, or had done, or had done differently? To be able to do that, with the compassionate understanding that it's in our nature as humans to to make mistakes (sometimes slight, sometimes egregious) I think fits in with Polgreen's set of maps. Maybe more than minimize regrets, minimize the self-laceration and self-condemnation that often come with regrets.
Robert Diamond (Puerto Rico)
Very touching article. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and reflections. They touched me.
Citizen (World)
Well done! The cadence and compassion of this piece are in themselves optimistic modeling of how to add a positive note in a cacophonous sea of doubt and grief. The articulation captures succinctly much I find true. I needed to hear these thoughts. Thank you.
robert253b (Washington)
I love the line from the article, "But a bias toward the vulnerability of hope — that is a true gift." Thank you for this thoughtful piece and the encouragement to stay hopeful.
knnj (Princeton, NJ)
Beautiful eulogy. I needed this right now in my life. Recently diagnosed with a disability. There is so much wisdom in this essay. I love that the author spoke with her wife and took notes about what she said. This is a hallmark of excellent writing. To bring in various experiences and conversations and weave them together in a beautiful way. Thank you, Lydia Polgreen.
Terri P (Santa Barbara)
My father passed away and my brother followed 9 days later I am lured by articles and readings that start “ What I learned “. I think your article should have been titled “What I learned from wife about my fathers death.” Thank you Lydias wife for the beautiful road map, tolerate uncertainty, normalize feelings and minimize regret. Beautiful thoughtful words. Thank you!
Terri P (Santa Barbara)
@Lydia Polgreen Losing ones father (and or family)is an unfortunate “club” to belong to. I wish I had your wife’s advice three years ago. But the interesting thing is that it is just as relevant and thoughtful to me now. Good advice is like that, its the gift that keeps giving. Thank you
Lydia Polgreen (The New York Times)
@Terri P This is a very good point! My wife is an incredibly wise person from whom I have learned so much over the years. She is my first reader and my most important audience.
Daphne (Irvington, NY)
The single most beautiful piece I have ever read in the NYT. Thank you for sharing your incredibly touching words and perspective.
eengbrec (Alberta)
@Daphne Agreed!
Catherine (SC)
These words are an excellent daily reflection: "Tolerate uncertainty. Normalize feelings. Minimize regret. Know that people have the capacity to change and connect, right up to the end."
Jane K (Northern California)
What a profound essay this is. When my father was sick and dying, I did not anticipate the enormity of my feelings upon his death. I thought I was prepared for it because he had cancer and I knew it would happen. I often told people afterwards it was like “Alice in Wonderland” going through the looking glass. Losing him made the world a totally different place. The quote from Saul Bellow is so true. Fortunately, the more time that goes by, I have found that it is easier to bear. But, I still miss him. I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m glad you were able to reconcile with your father beforehand.
Bboon (Truckee, CA)
@Jane K You are never prepared for it, are you? My father died suddenly of a heart attack on a Thanksgiving Day. He was my touchstone, and it was as if all the color drained out of the world. And I still miss him, and always will.
Mark Field (Auburn NY)
One of the most touching letters I've read in a very long time. I suspect that is because she touched on two subjects we all care so much about, and that we fear are losing or have lost - our loved ones and our country's ideals.
Mike Meshek (Colorado)
Thank you, Lydia, for this piece. We should all be so lucky to get a reminder like this everyday.
Meera (Los Angeles)
This was so thoughtfully and beautifully written. Thank you for this.
John (NYC)
“ As my father lay dying, I was glad I had the chance to tell him that I loved him and I was grateful. I don’t know if he could hear me, and that’s OK. “ How nice for you!
Martine (Texas)
Beautifully written essay.
Xan Rice (Lyon, France)
Beautiful and wise. Thank you for writing, Lydia
HearHear (NH)
So true, so sad.. Thank you.
Disillusioned (NJ)
I wish I could accept your optimism. But all I see in today's America, particularly the religious and political America, is hated, greed, an incredible lack of universal beliefs and stupidity. Few care more about others than themselves. Most want to know what is in any situation for them, not anyone else. We have no desire to even preserve the planet, a dying planet as you describe it. If anything, I have learned that people do not change. They wallow in the hatred, ignorance and religious fantasies that have been instilled in them since their birth, refusing to change.
Adam (Washington DC)
@Disillusioned True. but as you indicate a few times, not everyone. Perhaps the all-or-nothing thinking reflected in your comment, and shared by the people you criticize, is part of the problem you identify.
CAFolden (PacNW)
I have learned that when I’m overwhelmed by the awfulness I see in others, so many people who seem to lack any true human traits like empathy and decency, I need to shift my focus for a time. I look to find those who share my despair and realize they share my despair because they are decent and empathetic. As long as we the decent and concerned don’t all give up in despair, as long as we keep caring about the vulnerable and pushing back against the cruel and greedy in any way we are able, there’s a chance.
BobK (Tampa)
Oh, goodness. Thank you for this. Hope is everything.
Tim (New York)
I love optimism. I also love living in reality. One need only a quick glance at the front page of this publication to realize either there isn’t much cause for all that optimism, or the NYT doesn’t believe what it peddles. Hard to be optimistic when everyone has an anxiety machine in their pocket.
JP (Oregon)
Beautifully written ! Oh..Thank you so so much !! Just what I needed !
Sarah B (Seattle)
Thank you for this beautiful work. I especially love the recognition of what your father gave you that matters most to your life. Thank you for reminding me to cherish my parents now.
renee (New Paltz)
I understand the sentiments of the people who have commented and praised this essay. For me, the idea of navigating a "dying planet" with tolerable uncertainty leaves me feeling worse about our world than I already do. I do try to make this world a better place, and try to contain the sorrow I have over the failings of my fellow man. I entertain the possibility of simply enjoying the hell out of my available pleasures. I also know there is always a sound of pain playing in the background, no matter what I do.
Tom (Hightstown, NJ)
I lost my 19 year old daughter after a year and a half battle with a rare cancer in January of 2020. Covid hit 6 weeks later and isolated us making it difficult to be consoled by others. My one constant of work was then eliminated due to Covid a month later. I felt sucker punched. I'm still trying to navigate a new world after almost three years. Thank you for reminding me that there is Hope.
Charles (Cincinnati)
@Tom From this stranger I only want to say that I am so sorry for your great loss. I am a single father of a 27 yo daughter and even so I can only imagine what pain you have suffered. Your comment is much appreciated.
Peter F. (Centennial, CO)
Thank you. This fills my brain and my soul.
Sonia Pichardo (New York City)
This is an emotional teaching piece that is to be shared. How wonderful that. Gracias.
M. Callahan (Moline, il)
We live in such Nihlism. We are afraid of being wrong. We are all wrong...be so boldly! Embrace awe and mystery again. We need to fix the culture. And I see this as a leftist critique.
Alan (Norwalk)
we all learn from our fathers it seems. My dad was a ww2 vet but stateside, lived in the same house his whole life (a 2 family that my grandma lived in), married a nice shy woman, took bus to work in factory (left at 5:45 am and home at 5) and took a second job to pay Catholic school tuition and State U tuition($1000 then) and died of heart attack at 61 when ii was 24. I thought i lived a boring life compared to my HS and college friends(nice single family house, fathers who had leisure time, beach cottage) but it turns out that i inherited the work ethnic. Have done OK in IT, sent kids to good HS and college, worked second job 25 yrs as adjunct(home at 8:30 2x a week) and now "retired" working as sub teacher to make money to help my 2 girls fix up their starter homes. Not as exciting as the author's life, never really went South of New Jersey, but we were one step from the poor house and made it work. Life is hard but joyful if you realize the good. Thanks Dad and sorry I thought it was such a boring time, it taught me to be a man
Don Faul (Driftwood,TX)
Well said Ms. Polgreen. One of the very few columns I've read tin the NUYT that I agreed with. Wish I could have met your Dad.
Nan Simon (Ridge NY)
Helpful piece as I am looking for solace. I will clip your remarks for quick reference. Thx
michael (La Jolla)
God Bless You. Really lovely. Thank you
Susan Murphy (NorCal)
First a hug to your wife from a fellow social worker, in palliative care. This touched my heart. My father was a similar man "borrowing" my college savings and leaving my mom with 4 teenagers. Welcome back to the NY Times, I'll look forward to reading more of your great works.
Karen S (Oregon)
Beautifully written and so true. Thank you for reminding us to be open to life and death.
Abecim (DC)
So sad yet so beautiful.
coachu12 (California)
I am a criminal defense attorney and every Monday one of our more esteemed colleagues sends a quote to our group to provide hope and inspiration for all of us amidst the difficult work that we do. I don't often have time to read as much of the Times as I would like, but when I read your article, not only did it bring tears to my eyes. but my first thought was that I need to send her this quote to share with our group next week. "We live in a time dominated by pessimism and cynicism. These poses are a kind of armor against the vulnerability of hope. To be cynical is to close the door to the possibility of disappointment. To be pessimistic is to foreclose the risk of being made a fool by optimism." Thank you so much and may your father's memory be a blessing.
Christine McCandless (Denver)
Thank you for your voice of gratitude, hope, and optimism and for sharing your own vulnerability. After losing my own dad two years ago, I add your words to those that have helped me walk the road of grieving and healing. You are a gifted writer — I look forward to reading more from you.
A.L.P. (Midwest)
Thank you for your messages-- to tolerate uncertainty and that there is always hope--even a little bit-- that people can change. What a timely essay--at a time when our national community and we, as individual persons, need healing!
Happy Camper (Commerce Michigan)
My father died yesterday. My relationship with several of my siblings has been shattered, pandemic fall out and past grievances. Despite that we all gathered to say goodbye, some remaining closed off and separate. I want to share this beautiful tribute with all of them (except they still refuse to speak to me). My father was also a dreamer who failed to follow through time and time again, but big personality and big hearted. Thank you, thank you, it was a gift to read this today.
Lydia Polgreen (The New York Times)
@Happy Camper I am so sorry for your loss. I hope that this time of grief will help your family come together and find solace in one another. I am glad that my piece might help just a little in this difficult time.
Clay (Eugene)
@Happy Camper The death of a parent puts a great strain on siblings and extended family in many ways. Sometimes, relationships are even lost at this stressful time. I know because it happened to me. I hope that your family will heal.
Socrates (Downtown Verona, NJ)
Your siblings are missing out on the Happy Camper. Their loss. My gain.
Tom (Boston)
Graceful and up-lifting. Thank you. I possess (suffer from) a strong tendency to introversion which can magnify navel-gazing into abyss-staring so, I fight the attendant pessimism and cynicism daily. Curious whether others experience the same. As has been pointed out by others, I ought to read this piece daily as a reminder of how superb my life is. Those shards of glass after my mother died 6 years ago are getting smaller but, I sill find them everywhere which, oddly, I find comforting.
Francine (New York)
I read this while weeping. My father, a Holocaust survivor never lost his belief in God. I, on the hand lavished anger on this God who allowed my family to be massacred. But Dad remained a radiant man and I try to keep that in my heart. But it is so difficult without him by my side.
Lydia Polgreen (The New York Times)
@Francine Thank you for this. Your father sounds like a remarkable man. I have often found, both in my work covering conflicts and tragedies across the globe and in my own life, that the people who seem from the outside to have the least reason to be optimistic are often the most full of hope. May his memory be a blessing.
atb (Chicago)
@Lydia Polgreen So true!!
Thurman (Virginia)
My sister just died. I don't understand the why she was so suddenly taken from us. Her doctor said she would be home by the weekend. Just like that, she was gone. I have had a hard time crying, In a way, her suffering is over. I think about needing her now more than ever now that my brilliant husband is going through dementia. She would now what to do. She would know what to say, She would get me through it. I am alone now, But in reading this essay, finally, I cried. Sharing pain is healing. And I thank you,
Lydia Polgreen (The New York Times)
@Thurman I am so sorry for your loss. Grief shows up in so many ways. Living with dementia is so hard, in my experience, because the person is both there and gone at the same time. I am glad that this piece spoke to you, and I wish you strength in this time.
SS (New York)
@Thurman I'm so sorry. I know how much a sister means in getting through life and I'm sorry you lost yours.
EB (Earth)
@Thurman - My deepest condolences and sympathies to you, Thurman. You are going through such a difficult time. I can understand how deeply you need your sister as you care for your husband, and how deeply you must feel her loss. That said, you do now know what to do and what to say--for the simple reason that your lovely sister taught you well! The lessons she taught you will be with you forever and will bring you endless strength. You are right in that your sister would get you through it. That's still the case--she still will get you through it, even though she's no longer here. Sending warmest wishes your way--along with many votes of confidence in your ability not only to survive but ultimately, one day, to again thrive.
*RR* (NYC Metro Area)
This is one of the best essays I have read in a long time. I felt its truth deeply.
DDF (Tempe, AZ)
I believe your father did hear you at the very end. They say hearing lasts till the very end. People -- your father, all of us -- have the capacity to change to the very end. What kind of world would this be if we didn't think people -- including ourselves -- could change? That belief feels like part optimism, part realism, part truth. Mostly, though, it feels like hope. Reading your piece made me see that giving those who hurt us deeply another chance comes from a deep sense of hope more than anything else. We can spend your lives riding the escalator revenge and despair. Instead, you stepped off it and live your life believing people have the capacity to change. What courage; What hope. I want to be more like you!
Catharine (Baltimore, Md)
Oh Lydia, your article is lovely. I felt so much better after reading it. Thank you.
Bill (California)
There’s a book from 2006 that I keep handy when in need of some comfort and wisdom; Wisdom of Our Fathers by Tim Russert. Though it’s an easy read, it can at times be emotional but oh so enlightening. One particular story brings everything into perspective; how beautiful it is to be wholly satisfied just to be in the same room with someone, nothing else.
Jen (Portland Or)
Thank you so much for your insights and willingness to share . I will pass this on to my daughter who is considering cutting ties with her father. Im convinced there is growth from not only the forgiveness but the gratitude and acceptance once realized.
Virginia (California)
What a beautiful tribute to your father and your wife. You have learned much from them, and I thank you for sharing it with ys.
Sam18 (Bronx62)
As a father and now grandfather, I do have regrets about my failures as a father and husband that slopped over on my kids, trying to figure out how to make amends if even possible, while hoping they surmount and even somehow, maybe, hopefully, were strengthened by surviving the messes I made along the way. As they thrive, and are good people, despite my failures, and knock on wood, I give full credit to their mother, my wife of almost half a century. I try very hard to not artificially excuse myself, not to rationalize, while at same time trying very hard to continue to do better. To accept my humanity perhaps as well as our true stories, uncurated. JK Rowling at a Harvard commencement said something like ‘we must forgive our parents for having given birth to us’. I get it. And it has given me a different healthier more appreciative perspective on my late parents - and grandparents - as well. Good writing. Onward.
ASPruyn (California - Somewhere left of Center)
I hope that you can find enough solace in living with your family as you can. People can do a lot to put their faith in the future into action, work for, or help at, a non-profit, help out at a senior center, among many others. What I would recommend is either helping out at school or actually become a teacher. As that old story goes, when a business executive asked a teacher exactly what they did, the teacher replied, “I touch the future”. I became a high school history teacher in my fifties. It was the most fulfilling thing I ever did. As my license plate frame says, “To know the future, study history.” I saw my job not as a chance to indoctrinate my students, but to show them the joy that’s can be found in always learning new things. I used to tell them to think back to when they were just learning how to walk (or watch a toddler) and see that while they may fall down time and time again, when they finally learn how to walk, there is a huge grin on their face, because they had learned something. Imagine the joy in seeing that and knowing that you had helped them do that.
Labrador (Kentucky)
Your dad raised a beautiful human being. That's more than enough of a legacy.
James Thurber (Mountain View, CA)
I also spent many growing-up years in Africa. My family lived in Tanzania, Malawi and, for a brief time, in Lagos, Nigeria. Dad was a foreign-service officer. Returning to the United States for college was a massive cultural change. I lost my Dad about four years ago to kidney failure after five years of deteriorating memory and Alzheimers. It was a long farewell. So when he actually passed it was if we'd said our goodbyes years previous. Do I miss him? Daily. But his death wasn't a sudden event and when he took his last breath all his children and his wife of sixty-five years were by his side. A beautifully written documentary. Thank you for sharing.
Michelle (SLC UT)
This is a most timely and timeless piece. Much needed words. A beautiful story. Peace to the author.
Jill S. (Larchmont)
This is such a stunningly beautiful piece. Sharing with my children and close friends. I’m sorry for your many losses, but thank you for helping me feel that it’s okay to hold onto hope.
Phil (Philadelphia)
I'd like to think that rather than shards of splintered glass, my parent's deaths left little round pieces of safety glass- not dangerous, but numerous, small, reflective round pieces of remembrance. Can't count the number of times I've heard myself saying something my dad would say, and realize my mother's influence is integral to this day in many things. My life as a preacher's kid was nowhere near as tumultuous as the author's. We knew they loved us, even if our political and social views differed pretty dramatically. To this day, though, I am still in awe of how they both approached death with a calmness borne of the knowledge that they were moving toward a certainty based on their lifelong faith.
PNUT (The Dirty South)
A man who dedicates his life to helping make the lives of farmers in Ethiopia better , doesn't need to worry about what's next. If any of the old stories are true , he'll be fine ; if they aren't, he'll still be fine. He sounds like someone that I would have be proud to know.
Deirdre (East Village)
I'm sorry for your loss. Thank you for this thoughtful piece.
lionelf (new york, ny)
What a wonderful way to start what looks like it's going to be a sort of gloomy day. Thank you for this!
Suzanne (United Kingdom)
You just provided the article I will be sharing with my high school students on Thursday. Thank you for the courage to share.
Jon (Washington)
I think one can be an optimist on all things except the question of the finality of death. Too many people harbor at least a kernel of disbelief that it will actually happen to them, that their existence is finite and temporary. Be hopeful about life, but be sober about death, because only with the latter will the former come into true focus.
KW (Chicago)
You piece resonated with me, thank you. My father lost his battle with Alzheimer’s at the end of July.
Destiny (Philadelphia PA)
“I try to help them increase their tolerance for uncertainty,” she told me. A powerful piece that I'm certain will resonate with many. It sure did for me.
Margaret Oliphant (Indiana)
Beautiful insights, beautifully conveyed.
Me (Miami)
Sums it all up. As my father lay dying, I was glad I had the chance to tell him that I loved him and I was grateful. I don’t know if he could hear me, and that’s OK. As we sat together, I thought about the principles for dying and realized that they are also rules for living. A set of maps for navigating a broken world on a dying planet. Tolerate uncertainty. Normalize feelings. Minimize regret. Know that people have the capacity to change and connect, right up to the end.
Ellen (NYC)
Wonderfully written with great pathos. My condolences to you. You were as lucky to have your Father as he was to have you. I lost my Father when I was 14. At 67 I still grieve.
Ken W (USA)
Thank you for writing such a touching, heartfelt article. As I creep up on 70, I find myself dredging up the unspoken messages my mother and father, both of whom died 50 and 40 years ago respectively, quietly conveyed. The older I get, the more glassy splinters I find.
amalendu chatterjee (north carolina)
good article. good father's advice always impacts their children's life. My father was a doctor and provided medical services to his community (1940-1978). everybody adored his service while alive. he was a Minority in a Muslim majority country. that did not bother him. unfortunately, my mother could not live in the country after his death. at the end, the family did not get what it deserved. even then, it does not deter me to provide community service for the sake of humanity - my father's advice and lesson.
Eileen (New England)
Thank you for this. I am mourning so much now: my mother's death in 2014 (it was months before we could hold a service for her, for various reasons--the delay was painful); the end of my marriage (my husband had a long-term affair with a "friend" of mine & has subsequently married her); the death of a close friend (whom I almost married, 20 years ago) from cancer...COVID...and other things. Most people are mourning things of this magnitude these days. COVID keeps us slogging through a kind of fog or morass that makes navigating 'everyday life' even more perilous. I am always looking for a means of moving forward, for learning to appreciate the 'now' and live in the moment while looking forward, rather than crippling myself with anxiety over imagined disasters or past grievances. This article might help me open my mind, and maybe even my heart.
hibou (nc)
Wonderfully written piece that resonated with me, especially the parts on reconciliation and vulnerability. I will try to keep that in mind while dealing with my father and supporting his end of life decisions.
sc (Midwest)
"Tolerate uncertainty. Normalize feelings. Minimize regret." What you say is very consistent with Buddhist teachings.     Buddhism emphasizes that impermanence and imperfection are characteristic features of life and our "selves" are constantly changing. By cultivating an ever deepening "awareness"  -- an openness to our senses, feelings, thoughts and mind states -- we are attuned, in nuanced and granular ways, to impermanence and imperfection, and we also see ways in which our lives are deeply interconnected. Through this practice, we cultivate greater compassion, joy and equanimity and have a lightness around vulnerability. Thank you for this thoughtful, helpful and eloquent essay.
Tammy (USA)
Beautiful piece. Thank you.
Kate (Oregon)
Beautiful piece. So wonderful that your father passed that on to you. Made me reflect on my own father’s passing and how grateful I am to carry on his zest for life and optimism. It’s almost like you embody a piece of them after they pass. Thank you so much for sharing.
Suzanne (United Kingdom)
I am reading this in Greece. My relationship with my father is not too different from what you have written. I see him once a year since I left America for the UK permanently 3 years ago. He always asks when I am coming home. Frankly never. You gave me a lot to think about with this piece.
mk (los angeles)
I appreciate thoughts on vulnerability which I teach to my students in their life's work. I look back and remind myself of my brother's death at 44 from HIV and how to come to terms with his untimely passing. I did because he did in grace.
Joe No (NYC)
Quite a moving piece - thank you, and condolences. As I’ve grown older, I’ve found that life experience is truly the greatest source of knowledge and wisdom. But we live in a youth obsessed culture; so we’re bombarded with all manner of frivolity mercilessly.
Kris (Portland, OR)
Beautiful piece of writing. Thank you.
UWS600 (NYC)
A beautiful remembrance, filled with wisdom. I will definitely be saving this piece.
Sherree (Pennsylvania)
I’m so touched by your article, which brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing. I drove through that plate-glass window in November 2019 when my mother died unexpectedly at the age of 91 due to complications from a fall. Her yahrzeit is in two weeks, and my heart is still broken. I miss her every day. One thing I really appreciate about my mother is that she always surrounded herself with beauty, and I’m trying to emulate that in my life. And by the way, my middle name is Hope.
Babsy (South Carolina)
What a wonderful piece about your Father! May he RIP! We were with my Father right up to the end. He was loved by the whole family, including his many siblings. What an example of perseverance, love, and a sense of humor he provided to all the relatives! Art set an example for all of us to love learning and accept change.
Jill (Colorado)
What a thoughtful and insightful piece. We all share the experiences of losing our parents and the resulting shifting of our place in the world.
RSB (Toronto)
What an honest and heartfelt tribute. Our parents are people too, and they bring their own strengths and weaknesses to an often overwhelming task. My father died when he was 39, a few days before my 10th birthday. It wasn’t until after my 40th birthday that I began to recognize the myriad ways in which the circumstances of his life and death still invisibly controlled my life. Saul Bellow’s analogy to a broken window is one I had not heard before and is so apt. I had so many embedded shards, and it took working with a great therapist to finally shake them loose. One of the best activities she had me do was write a letter to my father. It seems hokey but was complete cathartic. Now, I can appreciate whatever time I have left with my mother. And remember my father with both live and honesty. And, finally, I hope that, when my time comes, my children will be able to do the same for me.
Charles (MidWest USA)
I face my own mortality head on, knowing that today may be my last day. I do it without morbidity, however, because there is so much beauty and excitement and love to live for! Yes, I can make a difference in the lives of others today. One smile here, a helping hand there. That's all it takes and that's all that matters for today to be exciting. I don't need anything back in this life. Today may be my last day, and I cannot carry anything into the next world. Not gold or a thank you. Life itself is that reward here.
Kelley (Chicago)
@Charles I hope today is filled with many smiles, hugs and tears of joy. You are a shining example of living life to the fullest.
Human (Fla)
What a beautiful tribute to your father. You are an eloquent writer. Having lost both my parents and only sibling in the last four years, your words resonated deeply with me. And know this, your father heard you. Hearing is the last sense to go. Thank you for this important piece.
Tricia (California)
Amazing piece! As a pessimist, I can see myself in this column. Thanks to Ms. Polgreen for her amazing writing.
Bernice (NYC)
As a parent going through turmoil now with my adolescent daughter, this beautiful piece gives me encouragement to see the long horizon of our relationship and to keep trying to leave her with larger values or ideals that may shape her life, rather than worrying about every action or deed I do for her or with her on a daily basis. Thank you for a beautifully written and deeply meaningful start to my day.
Madmax169 (DC)
Somebody needs to remind me when the world was not "broken" or the planet was not "dying." I think the world today looks pretty good from the vantage point of almost every other generation in modern history. A little historical education and context can go along way. And of course having an experience like this, which is commendable, but best left private. We move on.
Gardener 1 (Southeastern PA)
Thank you so much for this beautiful elegy to your Dad. My Dad died three years ago at 95 (!), and not a day goes by that I don’t think of him. When we were both younger, we’d take to the woods to pick mushrooms or high-bush blueberries, often coming home with bushels and buckets filled with our pickings. We’d get excited at spying a big patch of either. And when we’d finish our picking, Dad would take two cold beers on ice from the car’s trunk, and we’d sit down at the path into the woods and think that alls right in our world. I often look at his photo on my nightstand and sing ‘You Are My Sunshine,’ as we often did, including the day before he quietly died.
M (NYC suburbs)
After reading some comments, just wanted to suggest that there are bereavement groups for those who are struggling with their grief. Many churches or non-affiliated places have them. Grieving is normal and it's good to have support from people who are going through the same thing.
trina (Seattle)
Wow. I usually dread reading the newspaper every day. But this made many days of sad reading worthwhile. Thank you Lydia Polgreen. We want to see more essays like this.
David (Virginia)
I felt the same way, this piece is a small oasis of hope and wisdom in an arid wasteland of bad news. ... Ms. Polgreen, thank you for writing it. And thank you for your work. You are one of those rare souls amongst us who can go into the inferno, or down the street, see what is really happening, and still emerge honest and tell the story.
Meg Maggio (Falmouth, MA)
Wow, more writing like this please ! This should be required reading in journalism classes : That rare moment when journalism becomes literature. Kudos also to the editors , for prioritizing soothing thoughts during these tough times.
Meredith McLaughlin (Weaverville NC)
Thank you for this beautiful article. Reading the comparison to the death of a parent to the shattering of a plate glass window really resonated with me. I'm still picking up shards after being without both my parents for fourteen years. All we children must go through this stage of death when we say goodbye to them.
Susan (Rural Minnesota)
Wow! One of the most beautiful and helpful pieces I've ever read.
Rick Green (San Francisco)
Our fathers' wisdom can often go unremarked and even unknown. My father died in 1988 just short of his 78th birthday. I am approaching 76, and only recently have I come to understand something that my father used to say: "Life wants to live." It explains why we find life in every possible niche of the environment -- and it explains why we keep putting one foot in front of the other and move forward into an unknowable future. Thans, Dad.
Suzanne K. (NJ)
Beautifully articulated. As an oncology social worker, I see the struggle my patients face: acceptance of our lack of control in the face of fear of the unknown.
James (MA)
Two years into retirement, I look for peace by living in the present moment. I listen and observe more and speak less. This second half of life is our reward for making it through the first half.
Maria R (Los Angeles)
Beautiful! Thanks for sharing the wisdom of your father’s life.
L (Midwest)
Parents can leave a complicated legacy. Divorce, financial insecurity, and ruinously signing off on a mortgage are traumas that would scar many, if not most. Perhaps the real miracle of optimism is that Ms. Polgreen emerged from this crucible magnanimously able to love and accept her father in spite of everything.
Ellen Tabor (New York City)
Thank you for this heartfelt piece. You really affected me. Thank you for pointing out that reconciliation, even with a difficult parent , is possible. That peace is possible, even after they are gone. And uncertainty is...everywhere, all the time. We just pretend it isn't. My father died very young, when I was a young child, so my memories are few and my love, unambivalent. My mother died almost six years ago, and there is not a day that passes on which I do not forgive her for what I perceived as her failings and ask her forgiveness (although I have absolutely no belief in souls and afterlives) for not having shown my love for her her more during life. I'm glad you had the chance to tell your father these things. Even if he didn't hear you, you heard you.
CM_SF (CA)
Thank you for the beautiful essay. My mother is in the hospital as a result two strokes this summer. There were some challenges in our relationship when I was young and now I'm struggling with my emotions as she tries to recover and I try to take care of her. Your essay gave me some insight into how I might move forward.
WestchesterPeach (Cross River, NY)
“The things he failed to provide were nothing compared with what he had given me” is perhaps the kindest summation of a parent’s role in our life. I haven’t read such a healing piece on grief, particularly of family members who disappointed us in some way prior to their deaths. Thank you for opening my eyes to this perspective of forgiveness and gratitude.
Patricia (NYC)
Thank you for this powerful piece. The last bit is particularly poignant, especially your phrase "navigating a broken world on a dying planet". Thank you.
KB (Brewster,NY)
".....To be cynical is to close the door to the possibility of disappointment. To be pessimistic is to foreclose the risk of being made a fool by optimism..." ".......Normalize feelings. Minimize regret. Know that people have the capacity to change and connect, right up to the end." Inspirational words to try to live by for sure, especially in the dire political times we find ourselves. Words that seem to dovetail with those of Maya Angelou, " If we lose love and self respect for each other, this is how we finally die." If only we Americans could tune in to it more often.
Lunifer (New York, NY)
Thank you for sharing your wise as well as painful thoughts so beautifully. I hope to hear much more from you. Mostly all of my loved ones have passed away and I am thinking about what they taught me about living.
Jeri (CT)
Such an insightful take on life and words to live by. Thank for sharing your losses and the meaning they delivered to you by writing such an eloquent piece! A beautiful message and one that I needed to hear!
Vanessa (Fleming)
Oh how I needed this today. I lost my mother less than 2 weeks ago on October 14th. The waves of pain are exactly as the metaphor of the paned glass window laid out. Right now, the cuts are deep and the shards are large. They are immobilizing. Your father sounded lovely, and your own personal range of emotional intelligence to see the gifts he gave among his shortcomings were much more valuable is admirable. And this from your wife: “I try to help them increase their tolerance for uncertainty”… That one took the broken pieces of my shattered and uncertain heart and gave it an anti-inflammatory pill. Thank you. When Mom was in the throes of dying after her stroke, I talked to her. I didn’t know if she could hear me. Everyone said, she can hear you. I wasn’t convinced. But over the course of those 4 days, I felt more and more she heard me. When she passed, I knew she had heard me, heard us, all along. Your father heard you too. Deepest condolences for your loss.
Charles (MidWest USA)
@Vanessa My sincere condolences. My mum died decades ago, at the age of 50. She was young, we were younger; we didn't get to love her as adults. However, I have learned one thing - while some deaths are untimely, no death is timely. That wrenching pain is awful, and I pray that you get comfort from the good memories, and that you put away your regrets.
Clay (Eugene)
@Vanessa It is so hard when a parent dies; nothing can prepare you for it. My parents died within 9 months of each other (2007-2008), and I will always miss them. My sincerest condolences to you.
Bernie (Ann Arbor)
Wow. With all of the craziness and anxiety inducing events in our world, this helps me to recenter and focus on what really matters. Thank you.
Bob N (Ohio)
Thank you for this beautiful piece - it moved me greatly and will help me deal with my 15 year struggle picking up the shards since my Mom passed. Gifted the article to FB - had to share it. Blessings to you and your family.
Pia Schulze (Germany)
Tolerating uncertainly is hard. But it helps so much to gradually let go of fears and thus make the best of each moment and each day. Thank you, Ms Polgreen, for sharing your personal experience with loss which I can relate to so intensely.
Samuel-Levi (SC)
What a beautiful piece of writing. Tears flowed. Thank you.
J Stoddard (Santa Monica)
Thank you for these wise words. Your thoughtfulness resonates in my heart.
Elizabeth Fuller (Peterborough, New Hampshire)
What a masterpiece! To write so simply and straightforwardly about things that are deep and complicated is a true gift.
Anne (CT)
After the shock of losing a parent a reality sets in that they are not completely gone; they are in you. Once intense grief settles, again over time, thoughts of my parents filter-in with positive reflections on the lives they lived. They always had hope, never giving up on anyone no matter the situation, This piece, read early in the morning, reminded me that one of my parents gifts to me is hope.
JayG🥸🥸🥸🥸 (Brooklyn)
That was truly lovely. Exactly the reason the I cherish writers so. Your ability to translate and delve into life is a true gift , both to yourself and your readers. Thank you, and condolences to you and your family. The old man sounds extraordinary.
ECO (Sylva NC)
Beautifully written, personally touching memorial to your father. My deepest condolences to you and your family.
Jean (Little Rock)
I needed this today, Ms. Polgreen. Thank you.
Jenine (Holmes)
A beautiful essay, full of insights we all can use. Thank you for sharing your family history. So nice to read something well written and positive in the morning.
CV (USA)
I’m grateful to have started my day with something so beautifully written and told.
Jim (Mexico)
Minimize regrets - move ahead and embrace the daily with the uncertainty that it offers.
Valerie (Raleigh, NC)
What a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing.
Pammy (MN)
This essay came at the right time for me, when I most needed it. Thanks.
Kristin (Massachusetts)
Thank you for this poignant essay full of wisdom of the messiness of life.
Leland Seese (Seattle)
What a beautiful essay, and beautifully-written.
Sophie Maughan (Virginia)
"A set of maps for navigating a broken world on a dying planet. Tolerate uncertainty. Normalize feelings. Minimize regret. Know that people have the capacity to change and connect, right up to the end." - Lydia Polgreen This is the most important news story I've read in a long time. Thank you, Lydia Polgreen.
A.L.P. (Midwest)
@Sophie Maughan I agree!! What a timely essay--at a time when our national community and we, as individuals, need healing!
Little Joe (The Ponderosa)
@Sophie Maughan "normalize feelings" what could a phrase this empty possibly mean?
Progressive Christian (Ithaca, NY)
@Sophie Maughan You found the quote that we all need to write down and reflect upon every day that we're on this earth. Pure wisdom.
DW (Fairfield County, CT)
Beautifully written, with a clear combination of clarity and exquisite pain. This notion of managing uncertainty is more and more paramount to successful living. Buddhism has much to offer regarding the notion of equanimity, living comfortably with the stark realities of feeling groundless. I refer readers to the thoughtful writings of Pema Chodron. Not an easy idea to come to terms with, but necessary. After reading about your father, I, too, wish I could have known him. He has left you quite the legacy. What a gift. Peace to you moving forward as a practicing optimist. It seems your father would have wanted it that way.
Nile Stanley (Middleburg, Florida)
Thanks for a very inspirational story. I copied down many quotes like poems for later savoring,reflecting, and sharing. My own research showed that storytelling builds resilience. Hopeathand.org
Julia Parker (Medford MA)
I loved this piece. I could read it every morning to start my day in the right frame of mind. This passage especially hit home: “The shortcomings that seemed so glaring when I was young suddenly faded because I could see how the story worked out. The things he failed to provide were nothing compared with what he had given me: the raw materials for a life filled with adventure, connection and meaning.” I look forward to reading more pieces from this author.
michjas (Phoenix)
@Julia Parker Self-deception turns insufferable family members into gems so that we can all live happily ever after.
TK (Wisconsin)
What a poignant, insightful, and hopeful life story. Thank you for sharing it.
Tom J (Berwyn, IL)
I'm sorry for your loss. My own parents' deaths tore my heart out and brought me to the same life reflections you expressed. Peace to you.
David (Boston)
Beautiful piece, thank you - sorry for your loss.
Dr. Zucker-Conde (Medford, Ma.)
Thank you for your beautiful story of forgiveness. It's hard to forgive a parent's choices and have them make sense when they didn't at the time. But kindness is the greatest virtue, and your father tried to live a big life, bigger than his circumstances, not an easy thing to do. However, adults shouldn't be able to use their children to get credit or tax breaks once they are no longer living together, in my opinion. I'm glad you were given enough to make a safer life for yourself where you could forgive and admire his choices.
Carolyn Monroe (Chicago)
It’s so interesting how as children we see the good in our parents no matter how good or bad a job they’ve done as parents. It’s wonderful when we can see them as flawed humans but still accept their love and effort to do their best.
MLE53 (NJ)
I lost my father at age 46, when I was 5. My older sister was 6, my younger sister was 3 and my brother was 18 months. My paternal grandparents died before my parents married. My maternal grandparents died the year my father died, both were in their 60s. One uncle died at 54. Another uncle died at 50. On my father’s side, my aunt who I am named for died at 43 before I was born. My mother died at 59, when I was 27. We lived with death always around us. I believed I would die young. When I reached the ages my parents died, I thought I would die that year. My mother never spoke of my father for years, I think it was too painful for her. My siblings and I know very little of him. People who knew him loved him. My memories of him are very few and very dim. My mother gave us a wonderful life filled with her good examples of kindness towards others. We had little money, but we never felt we were poor. She died before I was married and before her 9 grandchildren were born. It has been frustrating and sad for my siblings and I to try to impart to our children who she was. As I grow older, I am now 69, I turn to her spirit when I need comfort, not to the god of my youth.
Socrates (Downtown Verona, NJ)
MLE53 You have had way too much loss in your life, my friend. As the Jewish Kaddish prayer goes, "may the source of peace send peace to all who mourn...and comfort to all who are bereaved...among us here...and wherever such may be" Life is not fair, but it can be compassionate. Please know that strangers care and wish you warmth, care, compassion and share that sense of loss that make us human and loving. Here's to thinking about your dear mother, father and your other great family souls in the ether. They live on in you.
MLE53 (NJ)
@Socrates Thank you for your lovely post. I will print it and keep it close to me.
Progressive Christian (Ithaca, NY)
@MLE53 This exchange you've had with Socrates makes me smile, and pause in a moment of appreciation for how the NYT comments section sometimes rises to the level of building compassionate community. There is a phrase in the Christian bible about how God (or god, as you write) can provide the peace that passes all understanding to those who mourn. That is my wish for you.
Rick (New Jersey)
This was beautiful. Thank you for sharing.
Swimming Mother (Dallas, Texas)
Thank you for this heartfelt article. As I read this, my sister will take her own life on Saturday after a terrible year of anger over her diagnosis and treatment of cancer at 66. My difficult but charming mother died last December. Reflecting on both these situations, my take away is I will use whatever time I have left to focus on their collective commitment to social justice. I will make sure my grandchildren get exposure to making the world a better place for all people. That is my sister and mothers legacy despite the turmoil that characterized their daily life. Time to let go of the bad and focus on the good.
Isabel from Australia (Melbourne)
@Swimming Mother I don't know what to say but I am thinking of you with love.
Joshua Schwartz (Ramat Gan)
"Not long after I graduated from college, he persuaded me to co-sign a mortgage so that he and my mom could buy a house, then proceeded to ruin my credit by being constantly late on the payments." That is something that should not occur. Parents have a responsibility for their children and I know many a set of parents who took out mortgages for (!!) their children or who paid part or all of a child's mortgage. Parents from time to time might sign as guarantors for children's loans and sometimes this blows up in their faces, but parents involving a child in the manner that Lydia Polgreen describes. After that it was hard to continue reading this essay.
Lake Mi Person (South Haven, MI)
Dear Joshua, perhaps this is why “no regrets” made the list. I understand your reaction.
Lrs (Union NJ)
@Joshua Schwartz ....and with that, you missed exactly the point of the article.
steveloffjr (nyc)
Beautiful message and story. I lost my father last December so this resonates deeply with me, as unbeknownst to all around me, I am still picking up those pieces of broken glass. Thank you for sharing.
Lonnie Soury (nyc)
a beautiful eulogy and one with a message that hit home for me sitting here feeling sorry for myself and the country: embrace uncertainty, relish and cherish those around you and let them know you love them and love yourself, and most of all enjoy, with all your energy, those special moments..thanks
Julie Marcus (New York, NY)
@Lonnie Soury Wise response to a wise essay!
Philip Goggin (Crewe UK)
Great principles for living - living with uncertainty, keeping up faith and hope in that uncertainty, yet trying to understand the world. Uncertainty lies at the heart of reality - as any quantum scientist will confirm, and anyone who takes to heart what Popper says about all theories being open to challenge. Sadly, so many people live in a dichotomous world: something is either true or false, someone is either right or wrong. The world is not binary. A great life principle!
Harry (Michigan)
You were lucky to have a father like him. Too many parents are only concerned with chasing money or mere survival. Some are born lucky and don’t even know it until it’s far too late.
Elizabeth (Portland, Maine)
You're right, the headbutting that we do with our parents in our youth seem of little consequence at the end. Give thanks that you had the chance to express your gratitude in person. When my father was passing, I was able to have a last conversation with him in person, thanking him for all that he did for us, assuring him that we would all be alright. And ache for all of those who have not been able to do this in the last three years.
HOUDINI (New York City)
"Billy Sothern, had died by suicide. He and I had lost touch over the years, but it wasn’t hard to keep tabs on what he was up to. He was a celebrated defense lawyer in New Orleans who specialized in death penalty cases. What always blew me away about Billy and his work was the improbable optimism of it." Seems slightly misplaced (even inappropriate) to write that your friend "blew away" something for you when in the previous para you mentioned their suicide. I'm sensitive to this because when I was a child my father did commit suicide and has colored each day of my life. I like your summation and your note about optimism requiring vulnerability is spot on. The Lone Rangers among us do not have the luxury of tears for this world you note as "navigating a broken world on a dying planet." We press on. My father's abandonment caused me to sear to my "son" (a pet of thirty years) that I would never abandon him. I haven't.
Kelli B (Baltimore)
So beautifully written and thank you for sharing with us.
ADS (CT)
Beautiful story, thank you so much for this and I am so very sorry for your father’s passing. May he rest In peace.
Cam (Rhôde island)
@ADS Thank you for sharing. People who learn how to forgive are truly truly the blessed. Peace to you.
FunkyIrishman (member of the Liberal majority)
Thank you for your story, your family's story, your story which is only part of the journey. Condolences as well. I too agree, that when we are vulnerable, that we can possibly affect the most change. If people around us see that we are willing to put it there on the line: a message of hope, a gesture that was unexpected, a chance at giving, that we become part of a larger thing. That larger thing being what is to be human.
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