24: The Brown Glass Fish

24: The Brown Glass Fish

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Angels and Miracles

The Brown Glass Fish

While we are mourning the loss of our friend, others are rejoicing to meet him behind the veil.

~John Taylor

My sister Judy and I stood by our father’s bedside as he took his last breath. He passed away in the early evening surrounded by people who loved him.

He had fought the good fight for two months. Judy and I spent hours with him every day. Our conversations covered a lot of ground, not the least of which was his growing faith. He had one son who predeceased him and four living daughters. Dad was very close with Terry’s widow, Laura. Each of us girls got to spend precious time with him except for Laura, who was struggling with a debilitating illness and was unable to travel to North Carolina from her home in New Jersey.

Remembering Gail and Joni’s approaching birthdays, Dad was relieved when I offered to shop for him. I asked if he also wanted me to get something for Laura, whose birthday was a few weeks later.

He responded, “No, we have time to do that.”

We didn’t have time; we just didn’t know it.

When Gail and Joni arrived from Pennsylvania, Dad presented each of them with a pair of lovely earrings and what we girls call a “lumpy” card — a greeting card that causes a lump in the throat. It was a tearful, tender moment.

He died two weeks later, on a Wednesday evening.

That Friday night, I lay in bed trying to fall asleep. My head was filled with thoughts of Dad. I thought, “Thank God my sisters Judy, Gail, Joni and I were able to spend time with him before he died. We will treasure those memories.

Laura’s birthday was approaching and I asked the heavens, “Dad, what would you want me to get for her?”

Immediately, in that time between wakefulness and slumber, I heard my father’s voice clearly; “The brown glass fish in the little brown box.”

It was definitely Dad’s voice.

Aloud, I said, “What?”

Again, he repeated, “The brown glass fish in the little brown box.”

This was too much. I sat up and swung my legs over the side of the bed. I had heard it loud and clear, but what did it mean? I got out of bed and slid my feet into my slippers. I walked to the room where Dad had slept and stood in the doorway, sweeping the room with my eyes. I saw nothing resembling a little brown box. I backed out into the hall, turned and went into his bathroom. Again, nothing that looked like a little brown box. I walked into Dad’s TV room, looking from one side of the room to the other. My eyes landed on three trunks stacked in the corner of the room.

The top trunk could look like a little brown box to someone with macular degeneration. To confirm that, I sat in Dad’s recliner in front of the flat screen TV and looked to my right. With only peripheral vision, Dad would have seen that as a little brown box.

I stood up, walked to the stack and picked up the little trunk. I couldn’t even remember what was kept in it.

Opening the trunk, I saw that the top trays were filled with small seashells and a variety of jewelry hardware. No sign of any brown glass fish. I removed the top tray and saw larger items in the bottom. Moving them around, my hand found an unopened package. Inside, I found a colorful enameled glass fish pendant. Of course! I vaguely remembered buying it several years ago. By then, it was 1 a.m. I closed up the small trunk and lay the package containing the glass fish on top of the sewing machine.

I told myself that I’d look at it more closely in the morning. Suddenly, in spite of being very alert just minutes ago, I felt incredibly sleepy, like I could barely make it back to my own bed.

In the morning, I awoke feeling well rested. I got up and headed for Dad’s TV room to get the glass fish. It was a glass fish, all right, but it wasn’t brown as Dad had insisted.

I put the package in my bathrobe pocket, went to the kitchen, and poured a cup of coffee. While sitting in the breakfast nook sipping my morning jolt of caffeine, I opened the package and admired the workmanship of the enameled glass fish. The sun was streaming in the window, foretelling a gorgeous summer day. Impulsively, I held the fish pendant up to the light and couldn’t believe my eyes. It looked totally brown, the colors of the enamel weren’t apparent at all. It was simply a brown glass fish when held up to the light. This is what Dad wanted to give Laura for her birthday.

I created a lovely necklace with the glass fish pendant and sent it to Laura from Dad. When she received the package, she called me.

“Can I open it now?”

“Hey, it’s not your birthday yet.”

“I’m impatient.”

“Okay. You can open it. I can’t wait to hear your reaction. Dad wanted you to have this. After you open it, call me and I’ll tell you the whole story.”

Five minutes later, I received a text. Laura wrote, “I will call you as soon as I stop crying.”

I knew then that it had a powerful message for her from Dad.

Ten minutes later, the phone rang.

“Tell me the story,” she said.

I related the entire incident.

She replied. “When your brother was killed, your mom and dad literally and figuratively held me up and held me together. I had lost my husband, and they had lost their only son.”

By this time we were both crying on the phone.

Laura continued. “Dad took me fishing every chance we got. It was just the two of us, sitting in a gently rocking boat in the warm sun. As we fished, we reminisced about Terry and shared our grief. I know what Dad wanted to tell me with this gift. He and Terry are together.”

~Nancy Emmick Panko

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