I don’t like this picture. It was hard to get my dad to smile for a picture, so you would only get one shot. If the angle was bad, you kept it anyway because you never know when you’d get the next photo opp. This was taken in our kitchen, my dad wearing the Kangol hat I got him more than a decade ago. He didn’t wear it once when I first gave it to him, but he wore it the last few weeks to cover his head while his hair grew back from chemo. Boy could he rock that hat. And even though I don’t really like this picture, I’m sharing it because it’s the last picture I have with my dad. One week ago was the last time I’ll ever see him. Although he was no longer with us, I had one last chance to say goodbye. I screwed it up the first time, so I wrote it down to make sure I got it right the second time. Here’s what I said:
What do you say when you’re handed the phone in Cuba and told to say your final words to your father? Nothing. Literally nothing. I stood there silent, waiting for the words to come to me. But they didn’t. 10 seconds went by. 20 seconds, 30. The memories flashed through my head so quickly that I couldn’t get the words out. Next thing I knew, my mom was back on the line telling me how she was going to keep reading to him, holding his hand and making sure he was comfortable.
I am so prepared for everything I do in life that I faltered when I was caught off guard, feeling ill-prepared to tell my dad everything I wanted him to hear one last time. But I needed to say something, so I asked my mom to hold the phone up to his ear again, even though I still didn’t know what to say.
“I love you so much dad. We all do. You have given me such an amazing life, loving family, and so many great memories. It won’t be the same without you. We’re going to miss you. I love you.”
That’s it. That’s all I could muster. I silently apologized to my dad and I continued with what I wish I had said.
Dad, I have so many memories of the amazing man you are to me.
You raised me to understand what love is, being patient with Kevin and I, even when we tested your patience.
You were such an accomplished civil engineer, but before I was old enough to understand that, you were the man that shared a tradition with me each morning, letting me climb into your bed next to mom, still asleep, so I could help you pick out which tie you would wear to go “be important” at work each day.
You supported me in all of my athletic adventures, catching softball pitches for hours despite the tendinitis in your hand, and standing with mom in the rain for hours to catch short glimpses of me racing my first Ironman.
We laughed when I made the family sit in my office for three hours waiting for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade to go by, then realizing we were seated a block too far away to catch a glimpse.
You accepted me, leaning in to whisper that you thought my new nose ring looked pretty, even though mom wasn’t as thrilled.
You welcomed my friends into your life, even when they crashed your anniversary trip to Napa. But not only that, you lit up listening to their stories.
You loved me. You made me the woman I am today.
You conspired with me to make mom feel special, helping to throw your surprise 40th anniversary party a decade ago, and mom’s big birthday brunch with all her friends last year. We tried to conspire to surprise her with a river cruise along the Rhine, but admittedly you weren’t the best with technology or planning and caved in and gave the surprise away to consult with mom on which excursions she would want to go on before or after the cruise. Your downfall was wanting to make sure you made mom the happiest she could be. Your surprises and love brought pure joy to her face in a way that only you could.
You taught me the importance of family time, spending annual trips to the beach doing father-daughter swim races together, throwing a football, and brushing up on our board game skills.
You even planned ahead, making sure mom’s favorite chocolates were purchased for her birthday before you went into the hospital for your last surgery.
I’ll never forget my final moments with you: you squeezing my hand when I first held it post-surgery, even though you were heavily sedated with your abdomen still open after doctors had stopped the internal bleeding. The kiss you blew me when you could barely open your eyes, barely aware of your surroundings. The last chocolate ice cream you ate in recovery, reminding me of all the chocolate ice cream you used to sneak me when I didn’t like my dinner. And how you opened your eyes when you heard my voice over the phone for the very last time just 90 minutes before you passed. I am so happy that mom and Kevin were holding your hands, and Uncle Dick and Joan were there, all reminding you how much we love you in those final moments.
You didn’t like taking pictures, but boy do I wish we had taken more. I wish we had gone on more adventures together. And I wish you were around to see the next chapter, to bring joy to your future grandkids the way you brought joy to your own kids. But isn’t life full of those I wishes? We have to keep reminding ourselves not to be sad for the things that never happened, but be grateful for the ones that did. You were a wonderful man. The man that loved mom for loved mom for nearly 60 years. The man that raised Kevin and I. The man who loved and completed us. There may be one less seat at the dinner table tonight, but I find comfort knowing you’ll have the best seat in the house for everything to come. Your love will stay with me, with us, every step of the way.
If you love someone, tell them while you can. Tell them every day. Make memories now so you have something amazing to remember them by when they’re gone. Thank you for the memories, dad. Thank you for being you.