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At the funeral for Gen. Colin Powell on Friday at the Washington National Cathedral, his son Michael Powell told the heartbreaking story of being by his father's side on the last night of his life.
Speaking in front of friends, family and admiring leaders — including President Joe Biden, First Lady Jill Biden and others who've led the country — Powell gave a touching eulogy for his father, who died at 84 on Oct. 18 from complications of COVID-19.
"The example of Colin Powell does not call on us to emulate his resume which is too formidable for mere mortals," his son said of his father's distinguished career as a four-star general, the country's first Black secretary of state and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "It is to emulate his character and his example as a human being. We can strive to do that. We can choose to be good."
Michael then spoke of a tender moment when he was comforted by his father.
"We walk through this life holding hands with the ones we love. They guide us. They pull us out of harms way. They touch and caress us with love and kindness," he said, his voice cracking with emotion.
"One of my most powerful memories comes from holding my dad's hand. I was hurt very badly and lying in an ICU bed following a bad accident. It was the middle of the night, yet my father was by my side after a long day at work. I was squirming in pain and anguish. Without a word, he just took my hand and squeezed it with a father's love. It instantly relaxed and put me at peace."
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Continuing, Michael shared the poignant final moments he spent by his father's side when he was hospitalized and battling COVID-19. Though Powell was fully vaccinated, he reportedly had Parkinson's and had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer that suppresses the immune system.
"The last night of his life I walked in to see him. Now he was the one lying in an ICU bed. He could not see or speak to me, so I took his hand just as he had taken mine decades before," MIchael said. "I knew everything was not going to be okay. I wanted him to be at peace. Again, I felt my father's love in that hand."
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In finishing the story, Michael summarized the life of a soldier and stateman who achieved great things on the national and world stages. But he also revealed how he was a kind father and a friend, whose loss is felt deeply by those who knew him and lived by his side.
"That hand that took my mother's hand in matrimony. That hand that held me as a baby. The hand that signed report cards, taught baseball, fixed old cars. That hand that signed treaties and war orders and gestured joyfully while he was telling a story," he said. "That hand is still now. But it left a deep imprint on the lives of family and friends, soldiers and sailors, presidents and prime ministers and a generation of aspiring young people."
Before he left the podium, Michael quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said, "The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well."
Then, Michael said, "My father made a monumental difference. He lived. He lived well."