The Words I Should Have Said

“I’m so happy to see mommy, I’m so happy to see mommy, everyone has fun in music class!”

The group of mothers sat cross-legged on the floor, bouncing tots on their laps, singing along with the overly-cheerful opening anthem.

I felt a buzz in my pocket, my cellphone, which I ignored.

But after my phone conversation yesterday with Dad, and the knowing realization that followed, a grim reality pierced me when I looked and saw it was from my parents’ home phone number.

The mom next to me saw the ashen look on my face and offered to watch my two-year old while I went outside to return the call.

“Bouncing up and down on my little red wagon, bouncing up and down on my little red wagon”

I didn’t want to leave that room.

But I did, in what felt like slow-motion, feet-dragging in a light-headed blur.

Standing in the scalding, summer heat in a strip-center parking lot, I dialed the number and received the news I knew I would hear.

I glanced back through the window of the music room and saw my daughter twirling in circles, laughing and singing, arms outstretched.


Walking up to the podium, my feet were mired in quicksand.  I held tight to my grandfather’s Bible, from which I would read a passage.

I felt as if at any moment, I would come undone, from the inside out, pieces of me strewn throughout the church, reaching the furthest corners.

I was supposed to speak about my father.  The best I had come up with in the early hours of the morning was a scripture passage that my grandfather had underlined in the Bible he gave to my father.

I read the passage, as steadily as I could, hands shaking, trying not to choke on words.  I prattled on about how the passage said that God would always be with us, and how I knew my father would always be with us in spirit, too.

I’m sure my words were exactly what they needed to be at the moment, and maybe I just wasn’t capable of any more on that day.

But I should have told those people sitting in that church that the reason I knew he’d always be with me, is because he had always been there for me.

When I was very young and made to go for asthma breathing treatments, he accompanied me and held my hand as they put the scary mask over my face.  He wove together stories about a girl named, “Jenny Lynn” who had adventures with cowboys and wagon trains, and her best friend, an American Indian named, “Chief Red Cloud.”

He took me to work with him on occasion, entertaining me with colored pencils and paper, while he pored over the geological maps on his walls.

When I was sick from experimenting with wine coolers one summer night in high school, he let me stay in bed the next day and brought me a grilled cheese sandwich on a tray.

When a very bad thing happened to me in college, he was the first one to hold me up, tell me everything was going to be okay, and help me find a way to make it so. No questions asked.

He wrote pages and pages of letters to me, in his shaky hand, full of fatherly wisdom and advice, encouragement and reassurance that I breathed in like air.

Tonight, as I sift through those old letters and think about that day at the church, I wish I could go back in time and tell those people that he was, simply, my everything.

He taught me how to succeed and how to mess up.

He taught me how to encourage others and how to apologize when I made a mistake.

He taught me to stand up for what is right, even when it seems like the world is against you.

He embodied unconditional love.

No, he wasn’t perfect.  He didn’t always say and do exactly the right thing at the right moment.

But one thing I can never say is that he wasn’t there for me.

I carry all those best moments of him tucked away in a tiny place inside my heart, and although I can’t speak to him or hold his hand, I can unpack those memories whenever I need to feel him close.

Tonight, as I empty that place in my heart and sift through those treasures, I give thanks for his life.

And the life I was lucky enough to share with him.

Christmas, 1977


  1. This is a lovely tribute to your father. I don't think you should have said them at the service. I think you said them just when you needed to.

  2. Beautiful and he certainly knew of the love you shared.

  3. You are one of my favorite writers. You manage to make a fantastic tribute to your father something that brings tears to my eyes.
    I'm so sorry for that loss.

    1. Wow, thank you, Natalie. I am glad that my writing can mean something to others. That's why we do it, right? :)

  4. A beautiful tribute. Brought tears to my eyes


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