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For years my dad sent daily motivational emails to his email list. He never missed one day — until February 3rd, 2015. Just a few days earlier he’d undergone surgery due to an intestinal obstruction—a major surgery, coupled with a large incision in his abdomen, and bad news about the spread of his disease. My father had begun recovering at his usual speed—faster than expected—when suddenly he encountered a roadblock. The area was infected, and the doctors and nurses had not figured that out. An irregular heart rate was our only sign. An angel nurse insisted on transferring him to the ICU despite not knowing what was wrong with him. Before long, my father was septic.
The infection had spread so quickly that his organs were shutting down. Already incoherent and losing strength, he was dying. Many doctors tried to assess what to do with him, but they thought he was a lost cause—covered in tumors, his heart at risk, and the infection already in his bloodstream. The only hope was to surgically remove the infection although the doctors knew he was unlikely to survive the surgery.
A nurse took me to the side and asked if I had my dad’s living will handy. She then put her hands on my shoulders, “Your father is too weak. His medical history is terrible. He is covered in tumors. He has a large incision in his abdomen. His organs are failing. His heart is failing. You must understand that your dad will not likely come out of this surgery alive.”
“You haven’t met my father,” I said firmly. I came back into the room, stood by his side, and talked to him only minutes before he was to be wheeled into the operating room. I whispered in his ear how much I loved him and needed him, and how I wanted him to overcome this and get through this surgery. I begged him to be strong.
He did not respond to me coherently. He was hallucinating. It dawned on me that it was Tuesday and my father had to send his daily email. Up until then, he never forgot to send his email. He’d even dictated it to me at times he wasn’t well enough to send it himself. But today, he’d forgotten. My heart sank.
Frantically, I walked over to the counter and opened up his laptop. I sat beside, laptop on my lap, “Dad, what do you want to share on your daily email today?” He just shook his head and continued uttering more gibberish.
I reasoned if I could just get him to dictate a motivational message, everything would be okay. But it wasn’t okay.
I solemnly closed his laptop. Moments later, the nurses were wheeling my dad out of the room when he summoned me with his finger. My dad often joked that when he saw me walk through the door, it was like seeing an angel because I was the only person who could understand what he needed when he could not communicate on his own. all he had to do was move a finger and I knew what he needed.
I put my ear close to his lips. I expected more nonsensical rambling, but instead he whispered, “I know what I need you to write.”
“For your daily email?”
“Yes.” He paused, took a few moments to catch his breath, and slowly said:
“If it is to be, it is up to me.”
Seconds later, I was alone in an empty ICU room with a laptop. I typed his words and pressed SEND.
What a man he was. He knew how much trouble he was in. He knew he might be dying. But he accepted responsibility for what he had control over. He had always accepted responsibility for his successes and failures. He took matters into his own hands. He did not leave the important things in life to chance.
But now his body was failing him. He could not control what his doctors were going to do or how his organs and heart and body would respond. All he had control over was his mind and his spirit—sometimes that is all we have.
My dad did survive that surgery, much to everyone’s surprise. But his recovery was long and difficult and my dad could no longer do his work.
Being a man who lived by his principles and commitments, my dad asked me to notify his readers he could no longer send daily emails. On June 11, 2015, my dad passed on.
“If it is to be, it is up to me” was the last motivational email he ever sent. Looking back now it was the perfect last email. May this story inspire you to live your life to the fullest while you’re still here. After all, it is up to you.
It if is meant to be, it is up to me — WIlliam Johnsen
I now send Daily Affirmations to my CORELifer community and I never miss a day. Each morning their affirmation includes an inspirational reflection. Today marks six years since my dad died. I feel very proud knowing that I have done my part to be a continuation of his work and his legacy. This morning’s affirmation was made in honor of my old man. I love you, dad.