My father’s final words to me

Last autumn, my brother Caleb and I knew our father didn’t have much time left. He had been in the hospital intensive care unit three times in one year and although his mind was clear, his heart was failing. But he refused to admit it – and that presented a minor problem.

Caleb and I wanted Dad’s final blessing – to get on the phone with him and hear whatever he wanted to say to us before he died. Instead, he insisted he was going to live to be 100, and when we would try to talk to him about dying, he just shrugged it off.

It may seem unusual for a couple of grown men to want a formal blessing from their dying father, but you’d have to know my dad to appreciate it.

Dad had been informally blessing us all of our lives.

I cannot count the number of times I heard Dad lavish affirmation on us, and it wasn’t just “I love you” either. He often said things like, “I love you so much, I don’t know where you stop and I begin.”

A formal blessing is just the kind of thing you’d expect from him, but time was running out and it looked like he wasn’t going to come through.

On a cold day in December, Caleb and I got on a three-way call to try to convince Dad he needed to go to the hospital. He was having trouble breathing because his heart wasn’t pumping hard enough. Through labored breaths he agreed to go to the hospital and then said four unforgettable words to us: “You’re my beautiful soldiers.”

A few days later, Dad fell asleep in the hospital and didn’t wake up. And while we hadn’t gotten the more formal blessing we had imagined, we were grateful for the four words he managed to say that day on the phone.

What we didn’t realize was that Dad wasn’t finished. He had one more affirmation left.

Two days after Dad died, my aunt gave us a notebook that belonged to him, and what we found inside took our breath away.

Dad had hand-written seven pages of individual blessings for my brother and me, our wives, and his seven grandchildren.

Affirmation after affirmation filled the pages until at the end, he pronounced this final blessing over all of us: “Above all, I praise and thank a loving God who hasn’t and never will forget about me or you. You will never lose your significance to the Lord.”

Woven into that message was the thing we all needed to hear from Dad one more time: “You will never lose your significance to me.” I knew that – of course I knew that – but I never stopped needing to hear it.

We all need to give heartfelt words of affirmation, but for some reason, we hold back. The words are down in there but we can’t seem to get them out.

Maybe we didn’t grow up with someone like my dad who affirmed our significance as a person. Maybe it doesn’t come naturally for us to affirm others because we’re not good with words. Regardless, if we really love people, we can’t hide behind excuses. Too much is at stake.

Our loved ones don’t necessarily assume we love them deeply, and even if they do, it means everything just to hear it. It doesn’t take seven pages or eloquent words to make the point either.

“I love you.”

“You matter to me.”

“I’m so glad you’re in my life.”

Imagine what it would mean for you to hear those words from your father, mother, spouse, child or a friend. Imagine what it might mean if you gave those words as a gift to someone else.

Text someone right now and tell them what they mean to you. Give someone a call, tell them you’re grateful for them and then tell them why – even if it feels awkward.

Speak a blessing over those whom you love. They need to hear those words as much as you do.

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