Reflections on ‘Living’ Since My Father’s Death

I recently stumbled upon the following text message correspondence between me and my father. Okay, maybe, I didn’t stumble upon it—I sort of looked for it and found it.

Happened over five years ago. So, let me put it in perspective and provide some additional context.

In 2004, my father underwent a routine physical exam during which time his blood pressure readings were high. He was 61 years old at the time and hadn’t seen a physician in well over three decades.

You see, my father didn’t believe in any type of Western medicine practices or interventions. He had only undergone a physical because it was required as part of an employment screening process.

Aware of his skepticism to Western medicine, I suggested he start eating foods traditionally known to help lower blood pressure like garlic and herbs, beets, and berries. My father followed this suggestion to a tee, often eating 3-4 cloves of garlic a day along with 2-3 beets in whole and juiced form.

I even suggested he start spiking his water with liquid chlorophyll to temper his ‘garlicky’ body odor. He did that too.

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Less than six months into his new eating style, my father’s blood pressure was significantly reduced. He never turned back. In fact, he was able to effectively manage his blood pressure this way for over 10 years.

I should also mention that my father was and had always been very active. He worked with his hands as a painter and general handyman, served as a primary caregiver to my mom, regularly went bowling and fishing, and loved playing sports outdoors with younger folks, especially baseball and basketball.

Unfortunately, due to his naturally aging body and inevitable stresses of life, my father’s eating habits started to change and his blood pressure levels began to spiral out of control.

Following a swarm of stressful life events, in 2016 he suffered a hemorrhagic stroke. He survived but was urged to start taking blood pressure medication. After taking less than five doses during a brief bout of occupational therapy, my father refused further medical intervention.

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Despite my constantly explaining the potentially devastating consequences of his continued refusal, my father repeatedly emphasized that he’d rather die fast from natural causes than take medication for the rest of his life. Months later he suffered a second stroke. He ultimately succumbed to complications related to that stroke.

That was exactly three years ago today.

My father’s death was untimely to me and my family; however, it happened just as he would have wanted. To him, living a short, ‘healthy’ life, was more ideal than living long and overly medicated.

I’m not sure if he even knew that there’s actually a bit of science behind that notion.

While most of us are familiar with the term “lifespan” or the number of years we live, there’s also the notion of “healthspan” which is essentially the number of years of our lives we maintain good health.

Though we can’t completely control the number of years we live, we do have a significant level of control over the number of years we maintain good health.

My father viewed ‘good health’ as being medication-free.

While I know that some sort of medical intervention in combination with healthy lifestyle behaviors could have very well extended my father’s life, I wholeheartedly respect his decision.

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And, while I still grieve the loss of my hero and the first man I ever loved, on this third anniversary of his death, I couldn’t help but reflect on his healthspan. Sure, I lost him relatively early at the tender age of 73—But up to that point, he’d never really been in bad health. And, that’s exactly the way he wanted to live.