By Dondi Schwartz
A friend posted on Instagram yesterday that her dad had passed away after a long stay in hospice. After a rollercoaster of health crises, she immediately wanted to share happier stories and memories. My heart connected with the emotions she was sharing as I remembered my similar moment in February 2016. After years of living with cancer and painful cancer treatments, my dad was dying in hospice and storytelling saved me.
Dad had been in the hospital for weeks and I was logging lots of time in a vinyl guest chair. We tried to pass the time reading books out loud, catching him up on what was happening outside the hospital and watching nature television. But it was the visitors who came with stories to tell that really made that time bearable.
In these bright moments, we remembered, and we laughed, and we stopped talking about and thinking about cancer. In the end, when Dad wasn’t talking and I wasn’t sure he was hearing me, I was inspired to start writing. I didn’t know what I was writing, but I knew I wanted to capture the feelings of the past few days. I was sick of cancer. I was exhausted by hospitals. I wanted to remember the “before” times.
Eventually I realized that this thing I was writing needed to be Dad’s eulogy. (BTW: I didn’t even think about his obituary; at the time I saw that as just a boring obligation to take care of later…how I wish Epilogg had been around back then. With my family’s blessing, I volunteered to be the one to read at Dad’s funeral. On a day that should have been heartbreaking, I was so compelled to share these stories that it felt easy to stand up and read. I felt happy I was able to remind everyone about what mattered. To help them do what I did — skip back to before cancer and smile and laugh.
Making people laugh at my dad’s funeral is one of my most proud moments in life. My regret is that the story that meant so much is now stuck on the hard drive of an old computer and the beautiful slide show we made to go with it is floating around somewhere on YouTube.
So, this was my advice to my friend this morning — don’t lose the stories that mean so much and help everyone manage their grief. Obituaries and eulogies serve a purpose but by their nature, they’re limited and fleeting. The best stories deserve a place to live on. Save them, share them, write an Epilogg.