Take Care, and Have Fun

As a woman who's had breast cancer, I've thought about death quite a lot. And when you think about death, you inevitably think about life too—and what constitutes a good life.

When my father died on February 3 at the age of 90, it got me thinking again about death—and life. I'd like to share some of his words of wisdom with you. He was a gregarious fellow and enjoyed holding forth, so I know he'd be pleased.

My dad was quite deaf and nearly blind, but he continued to read voraciously, using a magnifying glass with his thick coke-bottle eyeglasses, and to discuss what he'd read. Because of his poor hearing, such conversations tended to be one-sided, but that was O.K. because he was a charmer, and smart too.

Many of our conversations devolved into two statements. He uttered them with such vehemence that I know they held special significance for him.

One of his favorite sayings was "There are no heroes." It was odd that he would say this since there were many people he deeply admired: friends and public figures alike. And he was a hero in his own right. He earned a Purple Heart in World War II—something he wasn't particularly proud of since he said it just meant you'd been stupid enough to get wounded—and spent the past several years caring for my mother after she suffered a series of strokes and bone-breaking falls. I think what he meant was that all human beings are flawed, and that even flawed human beings can do the right thing and make the world a better place.

One of my father's other favorite sayings was "Take care, and have fun!" This admonition to have fun was based on some personal research he had conducted at the Veterans Administration, where he got his medical care. There was a team of volunteers at the VA who met frail or disabled patients at the door and wheeled them to their appointments. My father said that in the interests of science, he had taken to impersonating infirmity. As he was being conducted to his appointments he would ask each volunteer what he or she was doing it for. In every case, my father claimed, the answer was "It's fun!"

As my father lay dying, my sister-in-law tells me, he muttered unintelligibly all night. Suddenly, he shouted with total clarity, "Take care, and have fun!"

So I think that's what I'm supposed to do: make the world a better place, and have fun doing it.


Megan Rutherford

Megan is a volunteer on SHARE's Breast Cancer Helpline.