That last time

When I was a little girl, my father moved to Germany. Before the Internet and cheap long distance calling, letter writingairmail was our chief way of keeping in touch. How I loved and dreaded seeing those familiar, thin, blue, air-mail envelopes with his spidery handwriting in our mailbox. Dreaded because he wrote increasingly morose or chiding messages as his own unhappiness and alcoholism consumed him. Loved because he was my father and I wanted to love him.

My father died in Germany more than 11 years ago. We never had a service for him and I don’t even know where his grave is.

For months after his death, I would go to my mailbox still hoping for a card or letter from him. As seasons and milestones passed with no message, the finality of his death sank in.

Last night I dreamed that I received a stack of letters from my father. The letters had somehow gone astray and were finally reaching me these many years after his death. My dream self shuffled the letters, hesitant to read what was in them. Then I said aloud:

Sometimes it’s best if you don’t know it’s the last time. It’s best if you don’t know it’s the last time you’ll see someone. Or the last time you’ll go to a favourite place. Or the last time you’ll do something you love. If you knew it was the last time, it would break your heart and you couldn’t enjoy that last time. If I read these letters, I know it will be the last time I ever read a letter from him.

I cannot remember the last letter I received from my father. I am glad I didn’t know then that it would be the last. It would have broken my heart.

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