It got me thinking about the most traumatic experience I’ve ever had with death, my father’s. It took us over 30 years to develop the relationship we both wanted, but even two stubborn mules will finally pull in the same direction, and for the last 20 years of his life, I came to love, respect, and admire him. I also understood how much of what’s good in me was his gift.
I'm a hard-core agnostic, but dad was a fanatic atheist. He was also brilliant, a self-educated man who had had to drop out of high school when his father died during the Depression. Reason was his God, and since there is no way to reason your way to faith, he denied it categorically.
He died in 1998 of emphysema. I will always be in awe of the fight he put up, confounding doctor after doctor, as the disease progressed. He refused to give in, even when he was on oxygen tanks. The tanks may have made him give up tennis, but they didn’t stop him from playing golf 4 or 5 times a week. He never complained, never lost his sense of humor or his love of reading and music, nor his passion for a good debate.
He was the most stubborn human being ever to put foot on the planet.
But in the end, as always, the disease won. He lingered for nine very hard days in the hospital, and not only was I there the entire time, I was with him at the end. During those nine days, with the whole family there, we had a simple rule — you didn’t cry in front of him. He knew he was dying, but he had no need to talk about it, and he didn’t want people getting upset in front of him. We joked, discussed books, fought over his treatments, and talked about every issue under the sun...except his death.
He just wasn't concerned about God and what happens after death.