Warm water, the sky an endless expanse of blue, palm trees swaying in the island breeze, and I have no clue what’s happening half a world away, back in the USA, as I blissfully float in the swimming pool. To be fair, nobody knows that my father’s heart is on the verge of failure. That he has less than a day left to live.
I get the call the next day – or my husband does – while I am back out at the hotel pool, enjoying a few days respite from our work with Habitat for Humanity in Papua New Guinea. My husband appears at the side of the pool. I flip in the water, push off from the opposite side, and swim over to see him, pushing water from my eyes as I surface. He bends down and pauses a beat. I don’t expect to hear anything awful so his words catch me off guard and I don’t believe them. My father can’t be dead but somehow, impossibly he is.
It’s been 17 years and I haven’t stopped missing him. I feel compelled to write of him at some point each year, to remind myself that time is short and tomorrow is a mystery. That I love you and I’m sorry are urgent words that should not be put off for another day.
My parents are both gone now. I visit the cemetery often and talk to them. I tell my dad things I wish I’d said in the living years. I’m not sure that it would have gone well had I found the courage; I just wish I hadn’t let fear of his reaction stop me from saying what was in my heart while he was still alive to hear me.
I’m grateful that I recently took the time to call my dad’s baby brother because he died unexpectedly yesterday, apparently in the middle of getting dressed that morning. My aunt found his body later that evening when he was long past saving. My uncle, like my father, was a relatively young man and it seems far too early but I find solace in knowing that the last thing I ever said to him was, “I love you, Uncle Don.”
I didn’t say those words lightly or easily. My dad’s side of the family isn’t big on affirmation, hugs and I love yous. I’m glad I’ve learned to have the courage to speak from my heart even when it isn’t easy.
Is there someone in your life that needs to hear from you? Please, stop whatever you’re doing and just do it. Right now. Tomorrow may be too late.