The Last Time I Saw My Father, and the Gift He Left Me
I was so disappointed the last time I saw my dad. Not in him, but I had hoped the flowers I had brought over just a few days earlier would last the week. Instead, the crystal vase on the nightstand next to his bed in the nursing facility was empty, the wilted flowers having been discarded, and the vase itself wiped clean.
My parents had just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. We weren’t allowed to release dad from the convalescent home, not even for such a significant event, due to certain, labyrinthine insurance coverage rules. Instead, my mother and my sister and I brought the celebration to my father, an elegant luncheon in the gardens. It was an intimate affair including only our immediate family, but with careful attention to detail, table linens, flowers, my mother’s favorite ganache cake, and a few bottles of my father’s favorite drink, a sparkly and benign apple cider.
The flowers were particularly beautiful, mostly white with a few gold accents in honor of the day. The tightly packed roses, hydrangeas, dahlias and peonies brimmed over the top of the square vase. I had mentioned to the florist that it was a special occasion, and he assured me he would carefully select the flowers. I ordered two floral arrangements so that each of my parents would have one. After the luncheon, one of my sons wrapped one vase with a towel and nestled it inside a banker’s box, so it wouldn’t topple and bruise the petals or spill water in my mom’s car on her way home. Another of my sons brought my dad’s arrangement to his room.
My father was pleased with the flowers. His grandparents were florists, and he grew up working in the family’s shop, overtime on all the major holidays. He had an eye both for the quality of the flowers themselves and for the overall presentation. When he was courting my mother, he made her corsages himself. Every time I plop cut flowers straight into a vase, he carefully removes each one, cuts the stem to a specific length and artfully rearranges the display. I was delighted that the anniversary flowers met with his approval, and doubly disappointed when later they didn’t meet with mine. I had arrived, expecting the arrangement to bring cheer, but the clear vase now held only a few brittle lemon leaves that had been spray-painted gold. The sight of the empty vase left me a little blue.
I didn’t say anything to Dad about the missing flowers. We had other crucial ground to cover in our conversation – the grandchildren and their summer activities, politics, religion, the space program, the timing of his return home. He was his usual joyful, exuberant self.
“Oh Charlotte!” he exclaimed. He remembered something he wanted to tell me, “All of the nurses have thoroughly enjoyed the flowers you brought!” He was radiant.
I cocked my head quizzically, thinking about the absent flowers. He explained, “Every time a nurse came in to take care of me, I offered her a flower from the arrangement and a piece of chocolate from the box of See’s your sister brought.” The missing flowers suddenly made perfect sense. Nothing would have brought my father more joy than to share those beautiful flowers, one by one, with every person who walked through his door. It was exactly how he lived his whole life.
I had every intention of bringing him more flowers the following week, this time prepared for him to give away each individual daisy or sunflower, but I didn’t get the chance. He was gone too soon.
In his characteristic way, he left me with a gift, a story — the story of a man who spent his life giving, a story of love, selflessness, joy and hope. My favorite kind of story.
And so, I share. Because after all, I am my father’s daughter.
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Thinkstock image by O_Lypa