From Chicken Soup for the Father & Daughter Soul

Secret Tears

The gods conceal from men the happiness of death, that they may endure life.

R. Lucan

“I know you don’t believe this now, Nancy, but time will heal,” my friend Jean said, as she hugged me a few minutes before my father’s funeral. “It will get better. I promise.”

During Daddy’s funeral, tears fell freely down my face, but Jean’s words continued to echo in my mind. During that hour of intense sorrow, I thought back to the days when I was a child. I remembered watching out the picture window waiting for Daddy to come home from work. I thought of the times that I was sick and Daddy was with me, holding a cool cloth on my head. When I had problems as a young mother, I called on Daddy. What will I do now that he’s gone? I wondered.

For the previous four years, my father had lived in a nursing home. Parkinson’s disease destroyed his muscles, and dementia had taken away his mind. The ongoing stress of losing him had taken a toll on my health. I knew my blood pressure was high, but I didn’t take the time to go to the doctor for treatment. I pushed myself to the limit and, suddenly, it was all over. Daddy was gone, and I would never see him again.

Each night when the house got quiet, tears filled my eyes and I cried myself to sleep. I tried to keep my secret tears bottled up inside of me. I wanted others to think I was in control of my emotions and that I was handling the grief.

One month later, I felt lightheaded and dizzy at work. I had my blood pressure checked and discovered that it was soaring well into the danger zone. My pulse was racing as well. I wondered if I had waited too long to seek medical attention. I went to the doctor immediately, and he placed me on a medication that would control my blood pressure and heart rate. He encouraged me to take additional measures to control the stress in my life.

I might be able to control the stress, I thought, but I cannot control the grief. The secret tears remained with me, night after night. Even the closest people to me were not aware of the number of tears I had shed. Many times I remembered Jean’s words and wondered when and how the grief would end.

Nine months passed. With every special occasion, I grieved. My birthday was very difficult, but Daddy’s birthday was even harder. Father’s Day was pure torture. Even Memorial Day brought grief and gloom, since Daddy was a veteran honored in a special Memorial Day service.

One November night, I went to bed dreading Thanksgiving Day. What did I have to be thankful for? I was too sad to be thankful. I woke up at six o’clock that morning. I realized that I had been crying in my sleep. I was too tired to get up and eventually fell back asleep. During the next two hours I had a dream that turned my life around.

I was sitting alone in what appeared to be a waiting room. The walls were white as snow. Empty chairs lined the four walls. In my dream I wondered why I was waiting. Suddenly, the front door opened. A bell was hanging from the top of the door. As the door opened, the bell jingled. I knew that someone was coming inside. I looked up and saw my daddy. His body was perfect. He was no longer crippled. His white hair glowed. He smiled at me. He was wearing the suit that he was buried in.

I jumped up from my seat and ran and hugged him. He felt the same as he did when I was a little girl and I ran to meet him when he arrived home from work. I recognized his scent. He hugged me back and kissed me. For a few seconds, he held me tightly.

“Please don’t ever leave me again, Daddy,” I cried. “I have missed you so much. Please stay with me forever.”

Daddy broke our embrace and looked into my eyes. I felt a peace that I hadn’t felt since Daddy became ill some five years earlier. “I will be with you forever, Honey,” he whispered. “I will be living right here in your heart,” he said, as he gently touched my chest. “As long as you continue to love me and want me to be with you, I won’t ever leave. But you must take care of yourself. Always remember that I love you.”

Just as quickly as he had appeared, he was gone. I opened my eyes and even though there were tears on my pillow, I also felt a sense of peace that I hadn’t felt in years. I jumped up to tell my husband what I had just experienced. I called my mother to give her the assurance of my dream, too. Seeing him, hearing him, smelling him, all proved that he had surely been there with me.

I don’t understand exactly what happened that morning, but I do know that the secret tears are now gone. Since then, I have been able to cope with the loss of my father. When I think of him now, I don’t remember his illness or the difficult days preceding his death. I think about the good times. I remember the glow of his white hair, the smile on his face and feel the love in my heart the last time that I saw him in my dream. My blood pressure is now under control; my cardiologist gave me a clean bill of health.

Occasionally, I think back to Jean’s words. I realize that time does heal many wounds. In my heart, however, I know that the real healing came to me through a dream— and that my tears were not a secret after all.

Nancy B. Gibbs

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