I Wish I Had
The rhythmic swoosh-swash of the breathing machine whispered the words life and death, life and death. That’s what I heard inside those mechanical sounds. I stood at the foot of the bed, gazing at the feeding tubes that seemed to have grown to be normal appendages. Anatomically correct for a man in my father’s condition, lost in coma, grasping, I am sure, at the last vestiges of his soul.
I walked around to the side of the bed and sat in a metal chair that had been placed there by my mother who was momentarily absent from her vigil. I took my father by the hand. It was warm and soft. I expected it to squeeze, but there was no spirit in the hand. A single tear trickled down my cheek and landed on the bed sheets. “Dad?” I said, choking on a fading echo. “Do you remember when you told me you loved me? I was ten years old. It was right after I cut the lawn by myself, and then cleaned the mower just the way you taught me. You said you were proud of me. You knelt down in front of me and said that you loved me. I just thought you would want to know that I remember it as if it were yesterday. It’s alright if you only said it to me one time. No matter what you said or did when you were angry at me, I knew that you loved me.” With his hand still cradled within my own, I leaned back against the hard cushion of the chair. “I never told you that I loved you. I never said it to you. Not once. I was afraid to say it. Those words are the hardest to say sometimes. I love you, Dad. There, I said it. Did you hear me? Squeeze my hand if you heard. Just squeeze . . . damn it.”
I lifted his hand and held it against my cheek. “Jeff?” Someone touched me on the shoulder. I twisted away. “He can’t hear you, Jeff. Come with me. Let’s go for a walk.” I ignored the voice that came at me from behind. Instead, I rested my head on my father’s stomach and listened to his heart beating a solemn cadence to an involuntary major. I slowly stood up. “I love you,” I whispered. “If I never say those words to you ever again, you will know that I love you.” I spread my fingers and gently touched his eyelids. I knew that should the spark of his spirit ever return, it would shine from eyes once filled with a curious wit. “These will open someday,” I said. “And I want to be here when they do. I promise.”
There is nothing in life said to be certain. Only to say that what tomorrow holds is uncertain. Shun those internal squabbles, and lay aside stubborn misconceptions. Sing life out loud. “I love you, Dad.”
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