Daddy died in the quiet of the early morning on the last day of September. I was the last person to see him before he passed away. Before I left his hospital room that last night, while my mom waited out in the hall for me, I took a few minutes to sit and hold his hand and talk to him. He was only semi-conscious, and I don’t know how much he heard, but it made me feel better to say what I needed to say.
I didn’t know he was going to die that night (or, maybe I did) but I took the time to tell him that I loved him, and recalled for him some of our favorite shared memories.
I told Daddy that it had been a blessing and an honor to be his daughter, and that I was grateful for everything he had taught me. He taught so much. I told him that if he needed to go it was OK. No one else would tell him. My mom said she couldn’t, and I knew he needed to hear it. Then I squeezed his hand and I walked out the door.
It wasn’t until I was halfway out of the hospital that I remembered my first wedding day so many years before. Daddy and I got in such a hurry to get down the aisle that I forgot to give him a kiss, and when I remembered a few minutes into the ceremony, it nagged at me throughout the rest of the service. It was a silly oversight – no one else knew or cared, but the memory of that tiny lapse has turned me around so many times since – to give a last hug, or say a proper goodbye.
So this time, when I realized that I had forgotten to give my Daddy a kiss goodbye, I asked Mom to wait a second, and I hurried back, past the empty wheelchairs lining the hallway, past the late-night custodian, past the nurses’ station. When I opened the door to his room, he was sleeping soundly, so I tiptoed in, kissed him on the cheek, and left. Most likely, he never even knew that I was there again. But I knew. And when the hospital called at 5:20 a.m. to tell me that he was gone, one of my first thoughts was, I’m so glad I went back.
You never know how much one little moment will mean.
A number of years ago, a dear friend of mine wrote a touching essay about planting bulbs. In it, she drew a beautiful analogy between planting bulbs and raising our families: in both cases, we don’t get to see the results of our work right away, but if we are patient and have faith, we will create something beautiful, and it will continue to grow and bring us joy year after year after year.
I used to return to my father’s grave every year on the anniversary of his death. But one of the most important things Daddy taught me was to trust my inner voice – the one that makes me turn around, or say a word, or do what needs doing, or take the time. I haven’t always been very good at listening, but year by year, I get a little better.
A few years ago, I decided that this day needed to be set aside to look not to the past, but to the future. So today, instead of visiting the cemetery, I am kneeling at the edge of the grass in our front yard, planting bulbs with my daughters and my husband in the warm autumn dusk.