Lately I've been thinking about a person's last words. People make such a big deal out of them, as if a lifetime of love or wisdom can be delivered through one final sentence. If you've read some of my earlier articles, you know that my dad passed away from cancer when I was 17. This June it'll be four years. My dad loved me, I have no doubts. Unfortunately, no amount of love can completely erase the complicated relationship we shared while he was still here. If we had more time together, I would spend every second trying to show him that I love him just as much. But that’s the thing with time; it doesn’t wait for you to realize that you’re wasting it.

For seventeen years my dad watched me give gifts to my mom that never failed to make her cry tears of joy. I bought her a sapphire ring to replace her favorite one she lost, I’ve written her poems, and one time I rented an inflatable screen so she could watch her favorite movie, “It’s A Wonderful Life,” outside in the backyard on mother’s day. I gave my dad shirts that my mom picked out, books that other people recommended, and golf accessories that he didn’t need, but he never complained.

Something inside me must have realized it would be my last time to give him a gift, so on father’s day, six days before he passed away, I gave him a gift that was on par with what my mom received every year. A video of our memories together may not seem like much, but for a parent that got next to nothing on all the other holidays, I might as well have gotten him a Bentley. I stood next to his hospital bed while he watched the video and it was all too much for me. I ran out crying in the middle of the video and didn’t get to see his reaction. Somehow I had made the day about me. Parents are still parents even when they’re sick, so he wrote me a letter on a hospital notepad to make me feel better. Here’s what the note said:

Words can’t even express how much I love you. No dad could be more proud. I’ll get out of here stronger than ever. Your slide show (as usual) was brilliant.

I’m already jealous of your future husband taking you away from me.

By far—greatest Father’s day present of all times!

How about Ruby’s next week for dinner?

Thanks for joining our family!

Love Dad

We didn’t get any real last words. That note is the last thing he’d ever be able to “say” to me, but that lack of last words doesn't define our relationship. If you've ever lost someone, you know that a sweeping goodbye and a perfect last sentence isn't what you turn to for comfort on those days when that loss hurts more than it usually does. When I miss my dad, I think about being 8 years old and walking down our driveway together to say “goodnight” to the sun while it fell below the hills. I go back to summer days and think about the way he smiled every 4th of July when he lit fireworks on the tennis court and jumped over them as they launched into the air. He gave me 17 years of memories that mean more to me than any final sentence ever could. Try not to get caught up in the magic of last words, the love that people leave behind is so much more important.