My father passed away on March 21st a year and a half after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. This is part of the reason my blogging has been so inconsistent during this time period. I spent as much time as I could traveling back and forth visiting with him. At his memorial in April I gave two eulogies. One written by me and one written by him. I think nearly a hundred and fifty people were in the audience (and I spoke in front of them without fainting or throwing up) but I thought it would be nice to share this with anyone who couldn’t be there in person.
I’ve also included a video of him taken just a few weeks after his diagnosis at his retirement party. As you will see from the video he was not going to let a little thing like a terminal illness slow him down.
On behalf of Zhaleh, Zhian, and myself I would like to thank all of you for being with us here today. I only wish my father could be here as well, for if there was one thing he loved, it was throwing a party. For Persian New Year, for his birthday, any excuse to gather his friends, family, and loved ones.
He could be a difficult man. For ten years after high school I did not see or speak to him. Even now I do not regret this time we spent apart for it helped each of us gain a new respect and understanding for each other as men. More cautious and thoughtful in our communication, both of us still quick to anger but quick to apologize as well. While it was not always easy to be his son, that time apart gave me the perspective I needed, to appreciate what a good person he was.
He was always there to support us and encourage us. When I was at my lowest he took care of me. For that I will be forever grateful. When each of his children struggled with that age-old question of “What should I do with my life?” he was there to build us up and offer guidance. He never pushed us to follow his footsteps – instead he wanted us to pursue careers that would bring us fulfillment and happiness – with an aside that financial security was important too (I may not have heeded this warning!).
He faced his illness with bravery and strength. No fears or regrets but with a determination to accomplish more. He moved to his beloved city of Manhattan, a place that filled him with vitality and wonder, he traveled the world, he ate at five-star restaurants (too many five-star restaurants!), he threw parties, he went out without his hat on because “Skin cancer doesn’t really frighten me anymore” then he realized that sunburn still hurts, even when you have a terminal illness, and went back to wearing his hat.
Most importantly he visited and spent time with family and friends.
Twenty months and most of them with relatively good quality of life. Time we all had to create new memories, time we can treasure and be thankful for. Some people are not so lucky.
I visited him as often as I could and each time it broke my heart wondering if this was the last time I would see him. But he would call me and tell me about he friends he had gone to dinner with, the trips he was planning, the family members who had called him, and it brought me such comfort knowing he was never alone. That his life was full of people who loved and treasured him.
Kaveh Maguire – April 19, 2014
A few weeks after his diagnosis he took Zhian, Zhaleh, and me to Paris. We were talking one day and he was telling me all about the plans he was making and the things he wanted done after he was gone – including this memorial, or “Celebration of Life” as he preferred to call it.
Let’s face it. He was a bit of a control freak!
I could tell that he was a bit frustrated that there was going to be a party in his honor and he wouldn’t be here to make sure we got it all right.
So I said “Dad I would like to speak at your memorial. Would you maybe like to write something for me to read to everyone?”
And his eyes lit up and he said “Yes. I would like that. I would like that a lot.”
So now in his words, a second eulogy.
Woody Allen once said, “I am not afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens!”
Well, I was there when it happened and I was not afraid!
I have always though that no matter who you are if you want nice things said about you, you either retire or you die!
I was very pleased to hear what my dear friends had to say about me on my retirement. Not being around to hear what is said about me after my death, I decided not to take a chance as I am not sure my friends would be as generous!
So to guarantee that you hear good things about me, I decided to write my own eulogy!
I was born on September 16, 1938 in Esfahan, a beautiful city and once the capital of Iran. It was known as NESFE JAHAAN, meaning half of the world.
While my mother was responsible for my becoming a people person, it was my father who was especially keen on education. Thanks to his encouragement, I graduated high school as the best student in Esfahan. Being extraordinarily good at math, I assumed that the obvious choice for me was entering the college of engineering. But my oldest brother Abbas Ali who was my mentor, convinced me to enter medical school. In answer to my statement that I wanted a profession which best enables me to serve humanity, he argued that how best one can serve people but by becoming a physician?
So thanks to my brother, after taking and passing the entrance exam, I entered the medical school of the University of Tehran. I graduated in March 1963, and left Iran for the U.S. in July of the same year. I started my graduate training with the internship in Cleveland, Ohio.
After one year of internship, two years of residency in internal medicine, a third year of chief residency and one year of fellowship in cardiology, I started working in Lincoln Hospital in Bronx, NY. Later I joined the staff of Manhattan Psychiatric Center as a medical specialist. It was several years later that I opened my office for practice of medicine in December 1974. By then I was already married and had two sons, Kaveh and Zhian. My daughter Zhaleh was born later in 1978.
When I left Iran in 1963, it wasn’t only for graduate training, but also to escape the Shah’s dictatorship which had started with the overthrow of the popular Prime minister, Mosaddegh by 1953 CIA coup de tat. While in the US, I opposed the Shah and joined the struggle to bring democracy to Iran. When the shah fell in 1979, I was overjoyed and returned to Iran, but a year later by November 1980, the war with Iraq had already started and a new dictatorship with a religious face was consolidating its power. I also missed my children who were with their mom in the U.S. so I decided it was about time to come back.
I went back to work in Manhattan Psychiatric Center and later in May 1983 reopened my office in River Edge, NJ. In addition to internal medicine and cardiology, I was interested in human nutrition, so eventually I got a masters of science in nutrition from Columbia University.
After many years of working at the psychiatric center I learned enough about psychiatry not to have to refer my patients for relatively minor psychiatric problems to a psychiatrist. I also had to work for my patients as a social worker and even did some marriage counseling!
In my capacity as a nutritionist, I was able to especially help many of my overweight patients. It was so gratifying to see by helping them lose weight, I was able to not only improve their physical condition but also achieve improvement in their emotional well-being.
I saved many lives and decreased much physical and emotional pain and suffering. I assisted thousands of people to live a healthier lifestyle in my capacity as a physician with multifaceted medical knowledge and unlimited compassion. I loved my work. My patients were not just cases to me but were more like an extended family.
While being a good physician was my career goal, being a good human being was my more encompassing life-long aim. With so much oppression, poverty, hunger, and misery in the world, since my teen years, I realized that a good physician could only put a dent in improving the lives of people and that individual efforts can only produce a drop in the ocean of needed change in the world. That is why I joined the world-wide struggle against dictatorship, oppression, and social injustice. I sympathized with the oppressed whether black or white, red or yellow, jewish Israeli, or muslim Palestinian, gypsy or Indian and gay or straight. I was not satisfied to be a good citizen of Iran in my youth or the U.S. in later life, I would rather be a good citizen of the world.
Considering what I have done in my life as a human being and a physician, where do you think I am headed now? HELL? NO!! Heaven? NO!
I have already experienced both in my lifetime right here on earth. Seeing millions of people die of hunger, disease or wars for satisfying the greed of a few, while I could not make a significant difference, put me through hell. When I made someone smile, especially if it was a child, when I witnessed cries of joy, when I felt that I am making a difference in changing the world to be a better one, when I saved lives and decreased pain and suffering, I experienced my heaven right here on earth!!
Like Woody Allen said, I would have preferred to achieve immortality by not dying! But, now that I am dead I expect immortality through my achievements and influences both professionally and socio politically.
Yes, I expect immortality through my family, three great children, my many dear friends and everyone whose life I have ever touched. I expect to live through all of you.
YOU ALL ARE MY CONNECTION TO ETERNITY!!
M. A. Khonsary - September 16, 1938 – March 21, 2014