There was a laminated sign posted on my dad’s hospital room door. It moved from room to room with him over the past nine months as he battled with leukemia. It said “Call him Ryz. Not Mr. Obuchowicz. Not Mr. O. Not Mr. Ryz. Just call him Ryz. His dear friend Kathleen made it for him to help with his continued frustration over being treated more like a patient and less like a human being. As you all know, my dad was a very informal person. He joked around to put people at ease. He treated everyone like a friend until you gave him a reason not to and wanted to be treated the same way. In his perfect world, we’d all sit around a big table, loaded with delicious food, and merrily toast to the good times. As his daughter, I had the good fortune of sitting at his table many times. First with my mom and brother when we were growing up, then with him and my brother during his bachelor year’s and finally with him, my brother, Jen and the dogs. Those were the moments that I saw my dad the happiest. As he reminded us again and again during his last weeks of life--family is the most important thing--and always let us know how much he valued our presence in his life.
My dad was also a human being and struggled with his own demons. He was very sensitive and had issues with authority. Both are qualities that I’ve inherited from him. I attribute them to helping me become an entrepreneur a.k.a, unemployable by anyone else. As two strong individuals, we’d often trigger each other. Starting with our first debate over abortion rights when was just 11 years old, we fought often and took it all personally. Finally we began to pull away from each other. It was a dynamic that frustrated me in our relationship and caused years of emotional separation between us.
Watching my father at the end of his life taught me that we never really know the full story of a person. This last year was so hard for him. What looked like a fairly benign form of cancer morphed into a gradual yet steady decline of his body. He suffered so many set backs and had every right to be angry and lash out at us all. Yet apart from a few ornery moments, usually about the food at Johns Hopkins, my dad just kept softening to life. He made his peace with God, he earned the respect of his doctors and nurses, and told us that he loved us again and again. He was like a zen master--someone who had made his peace with dying and in that really learned to live.
Before he got sick, I thought I knew my dad. He was this big, easily excitable man called Ryz, just Ryz. But seeing his strength in dying showed me his great capacity as a human being. I recently heard this line from the great poet Rainer Maria Rilke which has helped me in my grief: "The great secret of death, and perhaps its deepest connection with us, is this: in taking from us a being we have loved and venerated, death does not wound us without, at the same time, lifting us toward a more perfect understanding of this being and of ourselves."
I’m incredibly sad to lose my father’s physical presence in this world but know so much of him will live on with us. I’m filled with a deep gratitude that I got to be Ryz’s daughter and learn from his strength, wisdom and deep generosity. I hope to do him well and share that until my last days.