Life teaches us many valuable and difficult lessons. That tragedy doesn’t knock ranks among its most sobering. That we take our lives for granted — no matter how much we tell ourselves we don’t — also places high on the list. For these reasons, I recommend that regardless of your age, you write a goodbye letter to your family. In the event of your death without notice, people who love you will always appreciate and cherish it. Death without notice can be softened with a goodbye letter.
This week I would have been moving my father across the street from me. We had big plans. I was going to visit him daily, bring him food, and share more quality time. We never got the chance. Instead, I got a crash course in You Don’t Control Time. The phone rang when it wasn’t supposed to. A doctor summoned me to the hospital. He wouldn’t tell me what happened over the phone. I cried all the way there. I got the news. The world spun around me.
A few months earlier, my father had coincidentally given me a piece of paper with contact numbers on it. I put it in safe keeping and never read it. Feeling rudderless, I read it the day of the call. On the bottom of the paper, it read, “Worst case scenario, check the top drawer of my desk.” My heart sank.
I drove to my father’s home. I stood in front of his desk, afraid to open the drawer. I opened it. There was a large envelope with my sister’s name and my name on the front of it. I opened it. It contained everything we needed to know in the event of a tragedy. I can’t imagine how sad and difficult it must have been for him to write it.
On the top of the papers sat a letter my father had written to us. Nothing I ever read will be more heartfelt, beautiful, or meaningful. He told us how much he loved us, how much it meant to him to be our father, how proud he was and always will be of us, and asked us to promise to love and care for each other. He told us that we could visit the past from time to time but that we should not live in the past — an obvious expression of his concern that his passing would devastate us for too long. He was selfless and thinking of us to the end.
Through the hardest tears I’ve ever felt, I read his moving tribute to us. One phrase he wrote was especially kind. It epitomized his unconditional love for us. He wrote, “My children are my monument.” Has a parent ever said anything more impactful to their children? If we are his monument, he was our sculptor. And we will forever be grateful that we had the greatest privilege to be his children. I was his only son. He was my only father. We loved each other.
Losing my father without any notice was and remains brutal, devastating, debilitating, numbing, shocking, and sad beyond explanation. Had he not left his farewell note, it would have left us in an even deeper state of grief. We didn’t get to say goodbye but he did. And so, in doing so, perhaps we didn’t need to as much. It made a monumental difference. It continues to help guide us every day. I hope my father’s final act of bravery, generosity, and thoughtfulness inspires others to do the same. My Dad taught me the importance of writing thank you letters as a child. This was his last thank you letter. And he saved the best for last.