Goodbye Dad, I promise to keep fighting.
We've never been good at saying goodbye. So saying goodbye forever feels nearly impossible. You were always my first call - with good news or bad. Today I want to call with the sad news that my first best friend, my forever best friend, is gone.
Your passing isn’t surprising or completely bad news. I’m glad you are free from the pain, trauma, and indignities of cancer, But selfishly I wanted more time. I wanted more stories and memories. More recipes and dreams, I wanted more “I love you’s” and long hugs, More Monday morning songs.
But I am so grateful for our time together. You showed me how to tie my shoes, ride a bike, and drive a car. You taught me how to love, persist, and work hard. You shared your passion for telling stories, serving others, and taking adventures. You gave me endless opportunities and always pushed me to do more.
I know you had your doubts about your life and legacy. I think we always do. From your Glasgow roots to your Air Force service, to your home town of West Haven, CT, you led a working class life filled with ups and downs, highs and lows. Along the way you made friends in every room you entered and every path you took. You had the charisma and charm to light up a room, the jokes to draw people in, and the kindness to keep them hooked.
Your work two and sometimes three jobs to give your kids the opportunities you didn’t have. And we’ve taken them and will continue to take. We learned from you to worker harder than any one, to surround ourselves with love, and that if we dream big - anything is possible.
One of your favorite expressions was “Don’t take shit from anyone”. I remember you saying it to mom every morning when I was a little girl. You said it to me when I went off to Kindergarten, camp, college, and AmeriCorps. Lately you would leave a daily voicemail for me at work wishing me well and reminding me "don’t take shit from anyone”.
I used to think it was awfully pessimistic. As though you were assuming there was someone who would cause a problem in your day. But as I sat here watching you die I realized that it meant so much more. That it was about fighting for what was right - for me, for you, for our world. That we shouldn’t stand by and sit back when people are struggling or in need. That we should stand up for what’s right.
So part of your legacy is helping me build out a policy platform that I’ll advocate for. Your experiences have opened my eyes to new ways to care for others.
Housing is health. The HUD VASH Voucher program helped you exit homelessness and maintain housing. This extended your life by many years and should be available to all Veterans who experience homelessness.
The Veterans Heath Administration is on shaky ground. Hell - they tried to call the police on me. It lacks the technology and infrastructure to help those who served - like you, our heroes. Too many polices and procedures are built to intimidate patients and disempower care givers. Even more alarming, structural racism prevents too many veterans of color from receiving the resources they need.
Service is something that is very important to our family. Whether it be Military Service or National Service programs like AmeriCorps, everyone should have the opportunity to serve our country.
My brother and I are among the few people who actually benefited from the DARE program. Despite marijuana being a regular substance in our housing, It scared us away from ever doing drugs. But I am 100% convinced that marijuana is an effective medicinal tool for many and should be legal across the nation. I agree with the Drug Policy Alliance that marijuana should be removed from the criminal justice system and regulated like alcohol and tobacco.
I’m glad that Washington has a Death with Dignity law and I believe it should be more widely available. It’s not for everyone and dad you may not have opted for - it but it should be an option.
We need to pay our caretakers better - much better. As the population ages we will need more people to take are of elders and people who are sick. If we want a talented workforce available to take care of us and our families we need to pay them a living wage and ensure they have benefits to support their own families.
Dad, I wish you could be by my side when I help fight to make these things possible. But know that you will always be close to my heart and that you will always be my best friend. I promise never to “take shit from anyone”!
Love you always and forever.
Laurence McGowan, passed away on November 23rd, 2018 at the age of 62.