doctor’s words left no doubt: “Mr. Kennedy, your father’s kidneys have
started to fail, and there is nothing more we can do. In his weakened condition,
it is impossible to operate. He has somewhere between two days and a week
to live. I’m sorry, but there is nothing else that we can do for him.”
Dad was eighty years old, and a few months earlier he had gone into the
hospital for preventative surgery. The surgery appeared to be successful,
but later that day his abdominal aorta tore, and he almost bled to death.
The doctors managed to save him, and he struggled through several months
of recovery and relapse, advance and setback.
family members had spent many hours at the hospital over the last few months,
and now the end was near. There was a certain comfort in the doctor’s words,
because at least Dad’s struggle would be over. The man who had always been
there from my earliest years was about to depart. There was no more rehab,
no more struggle, no more advances, no more setbacks.
that night, I was talking with Fr. Pat Egan, who happened to be at our
house for dinner, and I recounted one of the stories here – an important
lesson in life that Dad had taught me. I sighed: “I just wish I had been
able to go through some of the things he taught me, and thank him one more
can still do that,” Fr. Pat replied.
he can’t talk any more,” I said. “I’m not even sure he could understand
what I would tell him. He’s going to heaven soon – why would he care about
what I have to say?”
me assure you,” Fr. Pat said as he laid his hand on my arm, “your father
very much wants to hear what you have to say, and even if he can’t talk,
he can still hear and understand. It isn’t too late to share these things
with him. Go ahead and do it. It will be important for him and for you.”
I was going to bed, I decided that I would go over to the hospital first
thing in the morning, and share what I could remember of all the many things
Dad had taught me. I started going over some of them in my mind, wondering
how I could remember them all, and then drifted off to sleep.
next morning, I suddenly found myself wide awake more than an hour before
my normal rising time. I jumped out of bed, went over to my desk, and started
up my computer. I typed furiously for over an hour. I listed the lessons
Dad had taught me, phrases of his that had become famous in our family,
scenes from my childhood in which he had imparted some piece of wisdom
some of the points, I put down two words, and for some I typed out a paragraph.
Several times, I interrupted one of the longer points because other episodes
came crowding in to my memory and I didn’t want to forget them. As fast
as the memories came, I typed.
in the car and drove over to the hospital. When I got to Dad’s room, I
was relieved that no one else was around – the hospital was pretty empty
at that hour. I closed the door and told him I had some things to share
with him. He couldn’t talk, but I grasped his hand, and he squeezed back
– a surprisingly strong grip. I told him that the doctors didn’t give him
very long to live, and that this might be the last time I would see him.
I said I wanted to thank him for all he had done for me, and especially
for the things he had taught me. I told him I would write a little book
of all these things, and call it “From Father to Son.” As I talked, he
regularly squeezed my hand. Fr. Pat was right – he understood what I was
saying, and it meant something to him. So I went through the list, recounted
all the stories, and thanked him one last time for all he had done for
was one of the best times we ever had together. It took about an hour –
me talking and crying and laughing, and Dad occasionally squeezing my hand
with the strength he had left.
I finished, we just looked at each other for a few moments. He couldn’t
talk, but he repeatedly squeezed my hand. I knew he had heard and understood.
goodbye for what we both knew was the last time. His last gesture to me
as I left his room that day was a miniature salute with his hand – a gesture
he had often used in the past. It would have been accompanied by the words
"see ya later, big fella," if he could have spoken. But I understood -
the gesture said it all. He knew that "later" meant in heaven. That little
salute was his final salute to one of his junior officers, to whom he was
now entrusting the care of the ship. That was the last time I saw him conscious,
the last time I spoke to him, and the final salute I received from him.
book is an attempt to capture some of those things that Dad taught me,
for which I thanked him on that last morning together, and to pass them
that in reading this, you can recall similar stories and events in your
own life, and perhaps even write them down and share them with your Dad.
I hope to encourage younger folks to thank and honor your parents while
you can. The day will come when they are gone, and you will find that the
greatest memories you have are of times when you expressed your thanks
for the things they did for you, and honored them for their role in your
book is my last gesture of honor towards my Dad.
I said at his funeral:
“Dad, the world is a poorer place without you,
a better place because of you.
done, good and faithful servant,
into the joy of your Master.”
we all have that said about us when we reach the end of our days.
follows are a few little stories about things I learned from my Dad over
quite a number of years. They are roughly chronological, but not strictly
people who have read earlier versions of these stories say that they like
sitting down in the evening and reading two or three at a time. Then they
take some time to reflect on their own fathers (or their kids), and either
enjoy the memories, or think about ways they could implement some insight
they gleaned from the stories.
it works for you, I pray that in these simple stories you may find refreshment,
guidance, hope, healing, and greater appreciation for your own Dad, or
for those who have functioned as surrogate Dads for you. Or if you are
a father, I pray that you may find inspiration and wisdom for all that
you can do, and be, for your children.
2011 Ted Kennedy III
||Ted Kennedy is a member of the Servants
of the Word, an ecumenical brotherhood of men living single for the
Lord. He is steward and trainer for the Servants of the Word international
formation house in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. Ted is a vice president at
Service Brands International, a franchising company headquartered in Ann
on links below to read separate stories