My Dearest Daughter,

As you know, there are some things I cannot spin. Your father’s death being chief among them. Three years of grief has made your threshold for platitudes low. You like our conversations honest and direct. So it didn’t surprise me when last night, you said what had been brewing for some days. “I wish it wasn’t Father’s Day.”  You laid your cards on the table and awaited my response. But I was tired. I couldn’t put my best mind forward. It was a moment where widowhood took a front seat, motherhood sat unbuckled in the back. The best I could do was say, “I feel the same” and then I stayed beside you until you fell asleep.

Now, in the light of a new day, I want to write this letter to say the four words you can never hear enough, Your dad loves you.  His love is eternal, constant. You, my love, are the narrative of his heart still being written.

___

When he died, you were seven. Your world was a compact trio. You crawled in bed between us each morning. There were three places at the dinner table. You had two people to fill your mind with ideas, dreams, possibilities. The three of us moved with deliberate and intentional love. We held nothing back. Your father gave love openly, without limit. He wanted his love to extend past him because he knew his time was limited. So he poured unending love into the heart of his child that would continue to grow beyond his lifetime.

Three days after he died, as our third day turned into a third night, you asked me a sincere, direct question. “How can we bring him back?” In your mind, it had to be so. The possibility of such finality was unbearable. It kept you awake past the point where fatigue and grief dovetail into bottomless longing. It brought to your mind big, unanswerable questions. You would spend a year of bedtimes turning the finality of death over in your mind, looking for a loophole.

Soon we took to looking out into the late-night, city sky from my bedroom window in an attempt to soothe you. You decided your dad had gone among the stars. Their presence in the sky was proof that he was somewhere. You insisted we open the windows of my bedroom to bring him closer. You wanted him to fill the room. I obliged. You sat arms folded at the sill each night and called out to him. Often, you worried that your voice could not carry past the trees and power lines. I held you, I told it could. I assured it would.

When, after that first year, he didn’t come back, you switched tactics. You told me it was up to us to get him back, as if the thought had just occurred to you. You repeated this almost weekly for the next six months. You made up incredible scenarios for his return.  This imagining became a ritual that let you ease your way toward submitting to the finality of his death. Each night, I heard your pleas. Each night I reassured. Reassuring you gave me something to do. And you will understand this later, but reassuring you gave me a way not to lose myself in the deep end of our colliding griefs. I encouraged you to yell out the window because it reminded me that I, too, needed a sill from which to lament, cry, yell. Thank you for your bravery.

_____

Today, at ten, you don’t ask me how we can bring your dad back any more. The incredible permanence of death is a truth you know too well now. Instead, you ask different questions.

You: “Why is everyone born if we just die? What is the purpose of it?

I kneel on your polka dot rug. Before I open my mouth, I pray that the correct words will fall  into my mouth in just the right order, in just a right configuration.

Me : You’re asking a philosophical and spiritual question that humans have been asking for a very, very long time. I ask that question, too. Philosophers ask the question. Books are written on it. I don’t always know why we are here. But I do feel we are meant to live our best lives with the time we have. To give love. 

You: What would Babbo say?

You are impatient, with me, with your own hurt. Ten is your year of literal thinking.

Me: He’d probably have some great Sicilian proverb to tell you. Or he’d tell you about his favorite philosopher. But in the end, I think, probably, he’d start to tell you the story of “The Odyssey.”

You: What’s that?

Me: It’s the ancient story of a sailor on a journey.

You: Why?

Me: Why is the sailor on the journey or why would Babbo tell you that?

You: Why would Babbo tell me that story? 

You look at me as if suddenly I hold the key to a new part of your father you are ready to discover. Again, I want to the words to line up and connect.

Me: Because whenever he had to talk about the LIFE it usually involved a story of the sea.

You: Why?

Me: Because he grew up on an island and in an culture for whom the sea held the essence of the mysteries of life. And there is no greater story of the sea and life than “The Odyssey.”

_____

These, my love, are our nightly conversations lately. Even when you don’t ask the big questions – when we hurriedly move through ending another day together – I see them forming in the pools of your sleepy eyes. You are wrestling with understanding. I love that about you. In that sense, you remind me of your dad. So, I try to “answer” your questioning the only way I can, with the tiniest gestures of love. I respond to your mystification with remembrance. I offer remembrance because its what I have.

This Father’s Day, my love, let me give you his words. I know that were he here, he would say, “Thank you, my beautiful soulful daughter. You have given me a rare gift, your impeccable love. You are brave and strong, intelligent and gentle. I love you from here to eternity and back again.”  It wouldn’t be flowery, you would instantly recognize the authority of his words. You see, sweetheart, he wanted the unstoppable force of his love to be yours, always. So he poured the best ingredients of his soul into you in the time he had. In you is every place he ever visited; the people he met. You are the books he read; the people he loved. You are the ideas that excited him and kept him awake to life. You have emerged from his death with the best of him. And that can never be undone.

Many moons have come since you last called to your dad from the window sill into the night sky. You no longer try to make your voice carry past the trees. But I know you still need to. So let this letter be a stand-in for those late-night talks. Let it be a chance to remember. I write it for all the ways I know you’ll need to remember his love, even as specific memories may fade. I write so that in all your life you have a witness. Because I have learned that loss has a way of making the real stories of our lives feel like a dream, something spun into vibrant cloth and then taken from view before we could linger over its beauty.

 

I love you and I want you to linger.

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