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My Dad Died Happy

This is a guest post by Kevin McKee, co-founder of Reward Boost and founder of personal finance blog Thousandaire.  I’ve been reading Thousandaire forever and highly recommend it and checking out Reward Boost today!

This is a happy story, I promise.

Yes it does end with my father dying from cancer, liver failure, and a variety of other ailments. However, the days before his death were incredible.

Background

My father was a Captain in the U.S. Marine Corps and served as a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam war. On one of his missions he was captured and held by villagers hoping to get a ransom from the Vietcong.

After 63 days of being tied to a tree, he heard a helicopter. The US military found him and the rest of his crew and rescued them.

That’s all my dad told me about his time in the service. I may have the story wrong, and heck it may not have even been true, but one thing is certain: my father was very troubled based on his experiences in the military.

When he made it back to the states, he did some work as a military policeman, met and married my mom, had two kids, and they separated soon after. My dad has always been a charming man, but he never did quite figure out how to deal with what happened to him in the marines. I think you would call it PTSD, although I don’t know if it was ever diagnosed.

He drank and smoked heavily every day I’ve known him. It was his way of dealing with what happened to him, but it also drove a lot of people away. He and my mother have never been on speaking terms as far as I can remember. As of 6 months ago, he was not on speaking terms with any of his five siblings.

Then he got really sick.

The drinking, smoking, and possibly Agent Orange caught up to him and he was diagnosed with esophageal  cancer. The tumor got so big he couldn’t swallow solid food or even liquids in his last days. He could barely talk. He was only 59 years old.

You’re probably thinking, “I thought this was a happy story.” That was just the background information. Here comes the good stuff!

The Last Days of My Dad’s Life

My dad was placed into hospice care at the VA hospital in Reno. My step-mom told me well in advance and made travel arrangements to go see him. I just bought a house and I’m saving up for a wedding so I really don’t have extra money for plane tickets. Fortunately though I’m kind of obsessed with credit card rewards and frequent flyer miles.

It cost me 15,000 miles and $5 to fly from Dallas to Reno, and then 18,000 points from a separate rewards account for the flight home. Out of pocket it only cost me $5 to go spend time with my dad before he died. How cool is that?

About a week before I was going to fly out I got a call from my step-mom saying he was getting worse and I should move my flight and get there sooner. If I had bought a regular ticket I would have had to pay $150 change fee plus the difference in the cost of the flight. With a frequent flyer ticket, changing the date only cost $40. I probably saved over $1,000 total on travel with points.

A year earlier my mom had cancer and I used points to fly my fiancee and I up to see her. Again, I probably saved $1,000 on those flights. Points and miles have been incredible to me, and I want to help other people earn as many rewards as possible. That’s why I created a site to help people find the best credit card rewards called Reward Boost. I hope you check it out, because you never know when you might need to see a sick family member and don’t have thousands of dollars to pay for it.

Anyway, back to the happy story. I moved up my flight and saw my dad. He was really happy to see me. Two days later my sister showed up, and he was happy to see her too.

Reconciliation

Then something really incredible happened; his sister showed up. He had recently reconnected with her over the phone but hadn’t seen her in years. You should have seen his face light up when she walked into the room. It was incredible.

Then his brother and another sister flew in a few days later. He had been estranged from these two for decades. No phone calls, no Christmas cards, nothing. They walked in the room and I saw that face again. Whatever happened between them in the past didn’t matter. The four of them were able to spend time together just like they did when they were growing up.

You should have heard the stories they talked about for those few days. I learned things about my dad as a kid that I never would have known otherwise. They didn’t have the best childhood, but they sure do have some great memories.

My dad could have lived another 20 years and probably never reconciled with his siblings. If one of them had gotten terminally ill I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have gone to visit. He was stubborn like that.

But they visited him and he was so happy for it. I know that he passed away with the understanding that his siblings loved him even after all that time apart. There’s something very powerful and healing about reconciliation, especially between siblings.

Wouldn’t Have Missed It For The World

Those few days were some of the most powerful days of my life, and I would have been there no matter what the cost. But it was wonderful knowing that I could use rewards points and miles for my flights and keep on saving for my wedding next year.

My dad is in a better place now, and he went there knowing his family loved him very much.

Crystal’s Comments:  I am all teary-eyed.  This is the most real, sweet, and positive post for credit card reward miles that I have ever read.  I am so very glad those rewards let you see your dad there at the end.

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6 comments to My Dad Died Happy

  • Happy that this was a happy ending like Crystal mentioned and that you were able to spend time with your dad. Something like this is priceless and I am glad to hear you would have gone no matter what the cost would have been.

  • Thanks for the happy story. I’m glad he’s in a better place. I also don’t have a close relationship with some of my sibling, due to drugs and alcohol taking over their lives. You never stop loving them.

  • @Thomas, it was really more powerful than I imagined it would be. I’m 28 and this is the first time someone close to me has died. Watching him connect with his siblings made it a lot easier.

    @David, I have a sister that has spent her whole life caught up in bad things and bad people, but you really don’t stop loving them. I hope you are at least able to speak with them every once in a while.

  • Human contact really is one of the most therapeutic aspects of palliative care. I hope you and your family take care.

  • Crystal that was a thrilling reconciliation post. Thank you so much for sharing. What wonders the Lord can work!

  • @Kevin

    I talk to one of them on Facebook, that give me enough space not to get caught up in his life, but close enough for us to be able to say nice things to each other and keep informed of the other’s life. Before Facebook we probably talked once a year for about 6 years.

    The other I just don’t talk to. I talked to him maybe once in the last 6 years.