My father was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia in December of 1998. When I got the phone call, I was at my soon to be in-laws home for Christmas. My soon to be husband was out buying a shovel with his dad.
It was snowing.
I remember the blue chair I sat in as I took the call. I remember the soft fabric, the pattern, the size. Everything from that day is covered in a haze – like one of those photo filters on Instagram.
Fast forward through the drive home, the car breaking down, walking in the back door I had walked in for six years, seeing him in his recliner – the same one he was always in – and wondering how long I would see him sitting there.
Fast forward through tears, sitting on his lap, laughing aching hearts, how to tell everyone, how not to cross the fear bridge, chemo, painful blood draws, hospital visits, close calls.
Sitting in my little black Ford Tempo in the rain.
Fast forward through student teaching, voice recitals, choir concerts, final exams, wedding preparations, school to home to hospital to home to school, late nights and Domino’s pizza, girlfriend hugs, fiance late night phone calls.
His white cell count had to be just right to leave the hospital. His immune system was fragile and we couldn’t risk all the people, all the germs.
Five years of schooling, two majors, 230 credit hours, one black gown, hat, tassel.
I sat in a hotel room with my mom and she handed me the letter.
“Wow! You’re graduating…where did the time go?”
I held the thin paper in my hand. Traced the familiar handwriting with my fingers.
“I remember when the Children’s Home called and said, ‘We have a little girl waiting for you if you’d like to come and get her.’ So, in the middle of a snow storm Mom and I loaded the car up and headed for Omaha.”
My father had chosen me, adopted me as his own. His words – his actions – his love, so apparent.
I remember, too. How I wanted him that near, that moment. To press my face against the glass and see him there.
“…and right now I’d like to go back and see every one of them over again.”
Me, too, Dad. I want to relive all those memories. And I didn’t even know then. Know that in less than two weeks he would be gone.
“And I am so proud of who you are and what you’ve become.”
He wasn’t there, but he was there. He was sitting beside me, loving me with his words. I could feel him in the room, his whispers in my ear.
“One more thing I forgot. When you were just a baby, I would come in from a hard day’s work, tired and hungry and ready to plop into bed. But before I did Mom would bring you to me so I could get into my rocker recliner and give you your nighttime bottle. It was without a doubt the highlight of my day. I would look down in your face and thank God and wonder to myself what kind of person my little girl would turn out to be.
Well, my little girl has turned out to be a beautiful, intelligent, loving, gifted, exciting young woman.
But you will always be my little girl.
I’ll be with you Carrie when you wear my gift on Saturday.
And my mom gave me a beautiful gold bracelet – delicate and sweet, encompassing all the things my father had written. His love – his unconditional, tireless, all engrossing love.
Kept in an envelope, in a plastic ziplock, in a fireproof safe.
Do you see me, Daddy? Do you see? Are you proud?
Do you see Brady? My baby girl Kayden? The one you never met? She talks about you. She knows who you are.
And as the tears roll down my face in the moments I pen these words, I dedicate everything I’ve become, everything I will be, to the precious memory of a father who chose me, who watched me grow, who let me soar, who died with dignity.
Use your words. Make them matter. Don’t wait.
My daddy wasn’t much of a writer – he didn’t often write things down – he even had my mom type his sermons. So this is what I have left of his handwriting, his legacy, his thoughts poured out on paper in a time of suffering and scary.
And they get pulled out when I need to know – to understand – to remember. Because the more years go by I am afraid I will forget – his face, his touch, his laugh, the way he danced me around a room like elephants stampeding in a china shop.
And I don’t want to forget.
But I have his words, the last photograph, my family – to help me remember.
Write it down. To your father, your daughter, your sister, your friend. Don’t wait for a deadly disease or a near death experience to push you to the pen. Do it now, in this moment. Tell them you love them.
They’ll need it someday.
They might need it now.
I know I did.
In loving memory of Randy S. Williams
July 22, 1949 – May 25, 1999
If you knew my dad, please leave a memory in the comments section below.
I’d love to hear stories about the man he was and the legacy he’s left behind.
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If you’d like to know more about my dad’s story with cancer, visit The last photograph I took with my father post.
For my own cancer journey, you can follow this link.