Uncovering The Bright And The Good

My Dad and Mom, Thanksgiving, 2003

by Kim Keller

I think about my father on this day of gratitude, because he was always so grateful for his life, and because I’m eternally grateful that he was a part of mine. My dad died in the summer of 2006, after a long and difficult illness. He may not be with me physically today, but his approach to life is forever etched in my consciousness. It is something I hang on to and draw from, whenever I need a dose of perspective.

I’m sure that my father was quietly amused over the years, listening to my sister Karen and me excitedly describe some New Age book we’d just read and thought was so stunningly profound. But now looking back, we have both realized that he was actually living the philosophy that we were — and still are — aspiring to. Our endless search for contentment must have given him a chuckle, as he could find the bright and the good without struggle and instructional books. He just came by it naturally.

What I remember so fondly is how my dad thoroughly embraced life — he soaked up every second. He was never too tired to do anything; in fact, he didn’t sleep much because he didn’t want to miss anything. My father also didn’t shrink from difficult challenges. He leaned in and dealt head on.

The character trait that most warms my heart, though, is the way Dad lived in the moment. He didn’t spend his time thinking about the past, nor worrying about what tomorrow might bring. Every day he was present in his life, and he found what was good in those moments, even in his darkest hours. Simply put, Dad was a grateful man.

A memory I’ll always cherish is the day I visited him in a nursing home in Florida, where he and my mom were now living. Dad was in the facility for an extended rehab stay with no clear exit strategy. We all wondered if he’d ever be able to go home, and it pained me to think about him being there. I had just flown down from New York, and I wanted to get there in time to share lunch with him. Typically, my mom had spent the entire day there, and I wanted to give her a break. She was drained by the whole ordeal, both physically and emotionally.

Lunch was at 1 pm each day, so I was pleased when I arrived at the nursing home in time. But when I got to his room, he wasn’t there. His nurse explained that lunch had been served earlier that particular day, and that he had asked to be wheeled into the cafeteria a while before.

I remember being so disappointed. I hurried down the hall to find him. And there he was, sitting all by himself in his wheelchair, looking out the window. He smiled when he saw me approaching, and I hugged and kissed him and apologized for missing lunch. I’m sure the disappointment was evident on my face.

“That’s fine, honey,” he said, with a genuine happy grin on his face. “I’m just sitting here enjoying the music and looking out at this beautiful view. I love sitting here.”

The music was coming from a player piano in the corner, an old upright that had seen better days. But Dad was swaying in his seat, taking in the melody. I looked out the window at the courtyard he was admiring, at the little waterfall in a stone fountain, and it made me smile. He looked genuinely content, and I thought, of course, he’d find and focus on what was bright and good. He hears the music and locks into the peace of the flowing water. As for me, I saw and heard everything else — his condition, the conditions of his fellow residents, the institution that he was stuck in. To me, it was all bleak and burdensome. To Dad, there was beauty to withhold.

“Well, how was your lunch, Dad?” I asked.

“Oh, it was delicious!” he replied. Of course, it was!

It still makes me chuckle thinking about him that day. My father knew all about gratitude. For him, it was an instinctive reaction to life. And I am endlessly thankful for the example he set and the lessons he taught me without even realizing it. I tap into that memory whenever I slide into a negative place, and it gives me perspective. It reminds me that I, too, have a lot to be grateful for, and I should never lose sight of that.

Find and focus on what’s bright and good. It’s that simple.

Kim Keller is the Co-Founder of In Care of Dad.  She lives and works in New York City.


11 Responses to “Uncovering The Bright And The Good”

  1. Rebeka says:

    Isn’t it interesting how much you reflect when you lose a loved one? Sometimes I marvel at how angry people get over life and situations. After losing my Dad, I don’t get so angry anymore because I know what REALLY matters in life now. One of my father’s favorite sayings was “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” This piece reminds me of that. Thanks for sharing!