What I Learned From My Dad About Dying & Living Happy
My dad liked to tell stories. He grew up in Vancouver with his mom, his dad died flying a plane in the Royal Air Force during World War II. In the 1950s, my dad was a student at the University of British Columbia. He got his PhD at MIT, in a field of theoretical mathematics he picked "because my advisor said it was impossible."
He worked as an engineer for Boeing, Bell Labs, Digital, and Motorola. I remember a little plastic display case, sitting off to the side on his desk, with a computer chip suspended inside. It was my dad's patent on a chip that routed traffic through packet switches on phone lines. The technology is still used for the Internet today. So yes, my dad was kind of nerdy, with thick glasses, pencil cases, and plaid shirts. He was also a pretty smart guy, who told some good stories.
One story I remember is from when he was at the University of British Columbia. One night he was with his church group, at a bar often visited by traveling bands. That night, Johnny Cash was playing, back when he was just getting started. My dad said it was a pretty good time.
Afterward, Johnny walked around visiting the different tables, saying hi and thanks. When he made it to my dad's table, he took a seat and said, "Well what did you think?"
My dad said, "I like the music. But I'm not really sure about this whole black thing."
Johnny kept the clothes. My dad kept listening.
Another story I remember was from the first time my dad had cancer. He was in his 30s, and it was before I was born. He was in for surgery. His heart stopped. His breathing stopped. He died.
He recalled floating above the table, watching the doctors. "Mr. Taylor! Mr Taylor! You have to breathe!"
They didn't look too calm, but he felt fine. Peaceful, just watching everything. "Then I remembered your mother," he told me. "I thought, I shouldn't leave now. I should go back." He was breathing again. He was alive. And he stayed with my mom until he died about seven years ago.
This last time my dad got cancer, I was really lucky. Lucky to have so much time with him. We talked about everything. He told his Johnny Cash story again. He talked about finding peace in his life, and about carrying it with him when he died. My dad had beaten cancer four times. Each time after the first, he said he was always fine. Whatever was going on in his life, he was always fine.
My dad knew things would be OK. It was one of the greatest things about him, how calm and easygoing he was, always. It didn't worry him so much if I didn't have a job, and was running off to climb mountains in India. He knew I'd meet someone in base camp, and create a whole new company out of it. I did.
It didn't worry him so much working crazy hours, raising a family, losing my sister, losing my brother to cancer. He knew we all have these things in our lives. Sad things. Stressful things. He knew things can just be difficult, sometimes, even a lot of times. In the middle of it, he never managed to figure out why I can't throw a football. For some reason, this MIT guy could throw a perfect spiral, every time. But he was there to build some darn good model airplanes with me.
And he just wasn't worried. "I was there," he said. "I died. If that's what it's like, then it's OK. I don't mind that. If that's OK, then everything else is going to be OK, too." He said he spent the rest of his life, after that time, always knowing this. He said it made everything a whole lot better, because he never forgot it.
Maybe if the worst thing there is, is fine, we can go about the rest a little better. Maybe we can let the hard things be easier. And the happy things be happier.
Let's work on this one together! Even when something doesn't feel good, or a few things — or 10 things! — don't feel good, there are still millions of things in you that feel good. It's hard to find them when you're sad, when something hurts, or there's just so much stress. But those millions of things in you are always there. Let's find them.
Here's a video to get us started.
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