This story is from Linda Roy in Angel Bumps, Hello From Heaven. I cry every time I read it. Then I send her a note that I love her story. She has a bunch of notes that are identical from me.
When I was seven years old, I walked hand in hand with my father through the funeral home where the body of my favorite grandmother, his mother, lay perfectly still, awaiting our last respects. It was the first time I had ever been to such a place or seen a dead body, let alone one that belonged to such a beloved family member. At such a tender age, I was horrified, confused, and a little bit frightened. But most of all, I remember sensing for the first time, with any sort of depth, that this could all be over for any one of us. The sudden and stark realization of life’s impermanence washed over me, and I sobbed uncontrollably as any young child would at finding themselves in such bleak surroundings. Yet, despite his own grief at having lost his mother, my father took me by the hand and we walked.
I remember clear as day saying to him the type of thing only a young child would dare utter, it was so blunt, yet achingly innocent. I looked up at him and said “I’m glad you’re not dead Daddy.” He just smiled, squeezed my hand and said “Don’t worry, Honey Bun, that’s not going to happen.”
But it did happen. One year later, as he played cards at the church with a group of friends on a seemingly typical weeknight, while I was fast asleep, the world changed drastically for my family and me when my father suffered a massive heart attack and died suddenly. I was 8 years old.
We had gone out to dinner. I sat next to him and we talked about everything and nothing. Just another family dinner, nothing special. Then he drove us all home, dropped us off, and I got out of the car and ran to the house waving goodbye without turning to look at him. I didn’t say goodbye and I didn’t tell him I loved him, because why would I on a typical weeknight? That’s not the type of thing an eight-year-old usually have the presence of mind to say.
Children don’t think about the fragility of life. Even though our summer vacation had been cut short when dad had a heart attack deep in the forest of Yosemite and had to be air lifted to a hospital, I didn’t make the connection that this could be life or death. He was my daddy, and besides, he told me nothing would happen.
Back then in the 70s, children weren’t allowed to visit patients in their hospital rooms unless the illness was serious and they were next of kin. I was granted permission, but didn’t want to go, for fear that he would look strange hooked up to all those machines, lying helpless in his hospital bed, not at all resembling the big, strong, animated daddy I knew, but replaced by a frail, unrecognizable ghost-like image of himself. But there was nothing to fear. Even in his condition, he was the same, going out of his way to reassure me.
He was released from the hospital, we all returned home, and everything was back to normal as far as I could see. But normal would only last a few short months.
When I awoke on the October morning after my father had gone to play cards, I was surrounded by my mother, brother and sister, all of whom shared the same stunned expression. My mother delivered the news that my daddy was “in the heavens”.
This time at the funeral home, as I viewed my father’s lifeless body in the casket wearing his favorite blue suit and blue and white paisley tie, I did not cry. Instead, surprisingly, I remained stoic from the shock and sheer disbelief of what was happening all around me. Surely this couldn’t be real. Just a year ago, he assured me this wouldn’t happen. I believed him as I always did. I was his Honey Bun and he was my daddy, my ally. On the day my parents adopted me, he was the first to reach out and hold me. In family pictures, I was either seated right next to him or on his lap. What was I going to do without him?
When you lose someone close to you at a young age, you gradually become accustomed to the new reality. The idea of having one parent becomes second nature. Not because you no longer care for or love the parent you lost, but because that short period of your life that they occupied becomes ever more distant and life as you now know it takes its place. For a while, whenever I needed to hear his voice, I’d get out the old reel to reel audio tapes he recorded thoughts, ideas, and conversations on. I’d pour over slides from old family pictures and vacations.
But little by little, the sound of his voice deteriorated in my subconscious, along with those old tapes, every day pushing the memory further and further away, clouding the clear picture I had of him. Each milestone came and went without him; high school graduation, my move to New York, and when I met the man I would marry, there was no one for him to traditionally ask for my hand in marriage. Who would walk me down the aisle? It would have to be my brother. This time I felt my father’s absence more strongly than ever before at the prospect of experiencing a life-changing event without him.
Since my father’s passing, I’d had occasional dreams about him. They were always pleasant and comforting, about something real or imagined; a memory or something I’d wished would happen. But on the night before my wedding, I had a dream about my dad that I am certain to this day was a direct message from him.
I dreamed I was sitting on a folding chair in the church basement, the same church my dad was playing cards in at the time of his death, and he was sitting across from me wearing the same blue suit and paisley tie, and he was smiling. He reached out, took my hand and told me how proud he was of me, that he had enjoyed watching me grow into the woman I had become, and how much he wished he could have been there for all the important occasions in my life, this one. He went on to tell me that I had chosen an excellent partner to spend the rest of my life with, and that he was sorry he wasn’t there to meet him, but that he approved. He told me that he would be walking me down the aisle in spirit and that he was always with me, even if I couldn’t see him. He promised to be there to share in my joys and sorrows, the births of my future children, and throughout my trials and tribulations.
All I had to do was close my eyes and think of him and he would be there. Then we talked about everything and nothing, just like we used to do. I told him how much I wished I’d turned to hug him on the night he drove away, how much I’d always regretted not saying “I love you” one last time. He said he’d always known how much I loved him and that he felt my hugs. There was no need to feel regret or sadness. He was okay and happy just to see us happy. Even in death, he was the same, going out of his way to reassure me.