22. Daddy’s Words

22. Daddy’s Words

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Inner Strength

Daddy’s Words

The pain passes, but the beauty remains.

~Pierre Auguste Renoir

My life changed the day of my nineteenth birthday. Daddy and I were leaving for the funeral home. As I opened the front door, its familiar creak made me cringe. Before Mom went to the hospital for the last time, she had asked me to oil the squeaky hinges because the noise often woke her. I hadn’t gotten around to it.

It didn’t matter anymore.

“Wait,” Daddy whispered. “Come sit with me a minute.” Reluctantly, I followed his lead and sat with him on the foyer stairs. His legs trembled. So did his hands. And the warmth of his body beside mine threatened to melt my numb reserve. I couldn’t be still. I had to move. To do something — anything — to keep from thinking. From feeling. From facing the fact that Mom was gone.

I’d spent the previous day scurrying. Preparing meals nobody ate, braiding and re-braiding my little sister’s hair, and cleaning the already spotless house. Staying busy seemed to hold back the heaviness of my loss and prevented it from shattering me. The only time I spent with Daddy in that whirling twenty-four hours was choosing Mom’s final dress.

Being near Daddy was painful. The hollowness of his steel-blue eyes and the sagginess in his broad shoulders confronted me with reality, and reality was just too painful to face. I remained stoic and stiff. I witnessed Daddy enter the brutal, tortured, grieving world and didn’t want to join him there. I had to be strong.

Glancing toward the front door, I secretly longed to leave him. To get as far away as I could. But I knew that wasn’t possible. He needed me.

Daddy, normally a strong military man, needed me. What a strange thought. Sitting so close to him felt awkward too. I know that sounds bizarre, but we never really . . . did that. Especially since Mom’s condition took a turn for the worse. Our times together were usually distant, spent doing daily tasks, caring for my sister, and making sure Mom was comfortable. Now we sat together in a dark, heavy silence.

The door, slightly ajar, allowed the morning dampness to seep in, carrying with it the floral scent of the red rosebush in the yard. My stomach turned. Even the air reeked of a funeral.

Daddy reached over and clasped both of my hands in his. I stared at the door and wondered if he heard the pounding in my chest. “You know I love you, don’t you?” His voice was shaky, and the banging in my ears nearly drowned him out.

A mass of emotion swelled in my throat and choked out any thought of speaking. My chest pounded louder — faster.

He tightened his grip, then released and stood.

My hands, still warm from his, reached out. Wait! Don’t go, I wanted to say, but only delivered a soft moan. The dam I’d spent months building collapsed, and the pent-up emotions spilled out.

Daddy pulled me up, pressed me to his chest, and we sobbed.

“You’ve never told me that before, Daddy.”

He placed his palms upon my wet cheeks and kissed my forehead.

“You’ve never told me that . . .” I repeated, “. . . but I’ve always known it.”

I tried to blink away the blurring tears, but the flow was unrelenting. The imprisoned fears and guarded emotions had finally been granted freedom. Though I still felt the pain of losing Mom, her battle with cancer was over and the tender embrace of Daddy’s love had begun the healing.

I clung tightly to my father, and to the words I’d waited all my life to hear. The moment provided a salve to my brokenness.

“I love you too, Daddy.” When I said the word too, a small smile crept over my face. I realized I’d never added that word before.

Undefeated by the pain that invaded our lives, I wiped my tears and faced the tasks before us head-on. By facing reality, an odd sense of relief came over me.

Daddy loved me. And life, although forever changed, would go on. It was one of the most difficult days of my life, yet it overflowed with wonderful words of love.

At the funeral home, many people stated, “There are no words to ease your pain.” They were wrong. Daddy’s words already had.

~Cheryl Hart

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