dad, daisy and dying too soon

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dad, daisy and dying too soon
Posted by Dr. Ernie Ward on Nov 03 2014

My dad gave me my values, principles, work ethic, spiritual beliefs, humility and drive to succeed. He taught me to treat everyone with respect, offer help when it was needed - not asked for - and how to love, nurture and comfort others. He instilled in me the love of animals and nature that influenced me to become a veterinarian. My dad went to rest a few days ago.

My dad grew up in the country surrounded by farmland and animals. Like many sons of poor family farmers, he knew all their working animals by name. I fondly recall sitting with my father as he regaled me with tales of stubborn mules, dried-up cows and hens that refused to lay until he gave them a saltine cracker. He had a typically tough Southern post-Depression childhood replete with plenty of hard work and more than one good “whooping,” and he witnessed the abuse and despair that accompany deep poverty.

The US Army helped save my dad and he was quick to point out that everyone needed a hand at least a few times in life. He met the love of his life, my mother, in 1961, and they were inseparable for nearly 54 years. My wife and I have been together since 1986; we’ve got a long way to go to match my parent’s record. My father was deeply loyal and loved deeply; that intersection became incredibly apparent with his dog Daisy.

I can’t remember seeing my father cry until the dog of his life, Daisy, passed away many years ago. Dad was a tough Southern male; crying in public simply wasn’t allowed for men of his generation. This was a man who’d known genuine hunger, slept in frozen Korean mud pits, watched his businesses fail and thrive and beaten back a heart attack. He was no crier. Except for when he lost Daisy.

Daisy was a rescue mutt that connected with my dad in a way any animal lover would envy. They went everywhere together. They watched TV, napped and Daisy was allowed to sleep on their bed. As Daisy advanced in years, I had the unfortunate task of diagnosing her with bladder cancer. I performed surgery, gave chemotherapy and ultimately bought her another 16 months of high quality of life. Prolonging Daisy’s life for my dad could’ve been why it was ordained I become a veterinarian.

Ultimately Daisy’s cancer returned and it was time to say goodbye. Because I’d been with Dad when he lost his parents and watched him continue to be the emotional rock for his family, I wasn’t prepared to see his feelings flow. He grieved intensely and our only conversations for months focused on Daisy’s particular form of bladder cancer, transitional cell carcinoma. Eventually our talks turned to the challenges of human and veterinary medicine, cancer, life and death. It was during this time I believe my dad began to truly understand my passion for veterinary medicine, teaching and helping others. I think he realized his son was a lot like him. He was right.

Like most children, we owe our parents a debt of gratitude we can never adequately repay. As a father now, I don’t expect my children to worry about that. I want them to be happy, moral and helpful people, just as my dad wanted. My dad was blessed with a life full of love and his family surrounded him during his final days and hours. He’s now resting a few minutes from our home. I’m going to miss you, Dad. Thank you for making me who I am. I love you.