As A Life's End Draws Near, A Father And Son Talk

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In 2010, David Plant was diagnosed with skin cancer. The cancer has since metastasized to other parts of his body, and David is now contemplating the end of his life. So, just before his 81st birthday, he sat down with his stepson to talk about their life together.

As Frank Lilley explains, "David is my stepfather, but I certainly consider him my father."

The two spoke in in New London, N.H. And Frank began with a question.

"So, you first met me when I was about 9 or 10 years old, when you married my mother," he says. "And I'm just wondering what your impressions were of me at the time."

"You were a good-looking, athletic guy, but you were in the unhappy situation of a broken family," David says.

"I didn't have a lot of people to look up to at that time — or a lot of friends, really," Frank says. "And so you became one of those very rapidly. And that meant a lot to me."

Frank is now a father himself; he lives with his family in Massachusetts.

"You know, I was thinking the other day how much I've looked up to you, and used you as an example," he tells David. "And I realized that's what I'm doing right now, again. I'm watching all of this, and I'm trying to learn how are you handling all this."

"Well, I think in a year from now I won't be here," David says. "But I'm not anxious about whether there's a heaven, or whether there's music or clouds, or whatever. I'm more anxious about the end-of-life journey."

"I want it to be quiet, contemplative, and calm. For me, dying — it's very enlightening, and certainly rewarding," he says. "Look at the opportunity to talk, for example. It's just incredible. We would coast around having a drink before dinner, never get down to anything that was serious."

"That's exactly right," Frank says.

"But I don't regard this as the terminal point of these conversations," David says. "Because I'm confident we're going to talk, again and again."

Frank then asks David what he'd like his legacy to be.

"I would just like people to believe that humility — listening to the other person and trying to understand the other person — and forgiving are important," David says.

"You know, to be honest, I don't feel like I have to forgive you for anything," Frank answers. "I'm really just very grateful. And I love you, and I thank you."

"Thank you."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Katie Simon. This story is part of the StoryCorps Legacy program, working with hospice and palliative care organizations to collect interviews with patients.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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