FEATURE — Late in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical “Hamilton,” George Washington elicits Hamilton’s help to compose an important letter to the nation. Thomas Jefferson has just resigned from Washington’s cabinet to run for president. Hamilton thinks this is their chance – his chance – to go after a disloyal Jefferson and teach him a thing or two about governance and leadership.
But Washington has a different idea: He wants to draft a goodbye letter to the nation.
He’s not running again for president.
Hamilton is dumbfounded. The people love Washington. Why would he leave office willingly? Why would he clear the path for someone else to take the reins of power? It makes no sense.
But Washington has a plan. He is acquiescing power exactly because he doesn’t have to. He wants to teach the new nation that they are more than him as president – because it’s how he can truly ensure their hard-fought democracy will endure.
In one of the musical’s songs, Washington sings:
If I say goodbye, the nation learns to move on / it outlives me when I’m gone / Like the scripture says: ‘everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree and no one shall make them afraid’ / They’ll be safe in the nation we’ve made.
It was a powerful lesson. But it was one Hamilton almost couldn’t accept.
This week my family had a similarly hard lesson in saying goodbye. Not from the likes of George Washington, but from an equally powerful figure in our lives: my father-in-law.
My husband’s cell phone rang early Sunday afternoon with a clear message: If you want to see your dad alive, drop everything and come.
The pneumonia he’d contracted nearly 72 hours earlier was now a systemic infection. And he just couldn’t fight it any longer.
He didn’t want to fight any longer.
There would be no intubation. There would be no ICU. He would gather his family, say his goodbyes and go out on his own terms.
And that is just what he did. Over the course of the next three hours, in between doses of morphine, medication to reduce the secretions in his lungs and waning oxygen treatment, my father-in-law held court with all the people he loved.
He instructed in the mundane: who was to play what at the funeral and what points he really wanted me to include in his obituary. He philosophized about what mattered most: love and family and living a good life. And he walked down memory lane.
We laughed. We talked. And we cried.
Through it all he was alert and purposeful and open to the fate that awaited him.
“When’s the next step,” he’d ask. “I’m ready for the next step.”
Paul Kalanithi writes of his confrontation with mortality in his novel “When Breath Becomes Air”:
I began to realize that coming in such close contact with my own mortality had changed both nothing and everything. Before my cancer was diagnosed, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. After the diagnosis, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. But now I knew it acutely.
For his whole life, my father-in-law had subscribed to the idea that this life is a proving ground and doorway to the next life. And here he was facing his faith acutely – with complete integrity.
He was not afraid. And it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.
My father-in-law died at 5:17 p.m. on Sunday, June 3, 2018. He was surrounded by his family. And we were inspired by his legacy – both in life and in death.
As we were trailing out of the hospital doors, disbelief and awe in equal measure, my 8-year-old turned to me and simply said, “I want to die just like grandpa.”
My honest reply: So do I.
Kat Dayton is a columnist for St. George News. Any opinions given are her own and not representative of St. George News.
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