When Dad Died, He Left a Haunting Message That Reemerged Just Now

Andrew Malcolm

It’s funny – not funny LOL, but funny weird – that one sunny, normal weekday many years after Dad died, a silent bolt of emotion struck me. And some memories rolled down my cheeks.


It made no sense. I had just picked up a newspaper clipping my wife had recommended. I was about to read it, and boom, I sat there paralyzed with sadness for long moments.

A counselor once told me that profound grief gets embedded in the mind, that some patients are suddenly overwhelmed by an inexplicable sadness one day, realizing only later that it was the anniversary of a parent’s passing.

But this day was nowhere near Dad’s death. Though only 69, he had not been in good health for some time and seemed to find peace and comfort only in his bed, the place he took his last breath. 

He didn’t want to go out. He wasn’t watching for whales anymore from his oceanfront apartment. He actually suggested I postpone a holiday visit, which I defied.

Then, right after New Year’s, the day before his birthday, Mom called me. “Dad’s gone,” she said.

Everyone handles family death differently, I suppose. I immediately busied myself packing and canceling appointments. On the long plane flight to California, no one would have guessed I was on the way to arrange the funeral of my beloved father. I was busily and efficiently doing weeks of company expense accounts. 

Dad was the man who had taught me pretty much everything about living right without making me feel as stupid as I probably was.

Before television, before even kindergarten, Dad taught me the alphabet. After dinner at his basement workbench, with his strong arms around me, he put a little jigsaw in my hands and guided them to cut out each letter, one letter each night for several sets of alphabets that I would arrange on the living-room carpet in pretend words. 


We had sanded each letter because smooth letters make smooth words. Then, I picked what color to paint each, except the vowels had to be red for some reason. 

Now, here I am three-quarters of a century later, arranging those same letters, carefully polished, into real words about how I learned them together with Dad.

One Sunday, I pulled on the lawn mower rope time after time. In open defiance of my teen will, it refused to start. I grew visibly angry and may have muttered some bad words.

Dad just happened to walk by for some reason and said, “I’m sure you checked the gas.” 

“Well, of course!” I said impatiently. 

Of course, I hadn’t. The tank was bone dry. But he let me learn that lesson quietly in private, walking away as if I was smart enough, even in his absence, to grasp the lesson on my own.

One day in junior high, after hours of stalling, I screwed up the courage to phone a beautiful classmate (I forget her name) and invite her to go to the movies with me on Friday night. She said no and hung up.

As I put the phone down, Dad just happened to walk into the kitchen for some reason. Quite casually, he observed: “You know, one day you won’t even remember her name.”

When I arrived at my parents’ apartment the night Dad died, my mother seemed just fine. She was happy to see me and actually kind of chipper. This made me angry. 

Her husband of 46 years, the man who had nursed her through exhausting radiation treatments for lung cancer, my father of 41 years, was spending the night in a mortuary, and she was handling his death her way, not mine.


I spent the next few days removing Dad’s clothes, buying a double cemetery plot, and choosing the coffin. I picked a beautiful wooden one because he loved woodworking. To be honest, I did pretty great.

Until, that is, the funeral director asked how many certified copies of Dad’s death certificate I wanted. I lost it. Five days of internal grieving burst out, and we paused the consultation.

Everything else went smoothly. Mom said she really liked the hillside plot. 

Dad was a planner. He must have sensed the end was nearing. He had previously written out advance instructions for Mom about insurance, investments, the apartment lease. He also left a large check for me. I asked Mom what that was about. She said, “Well, he must have wanted you to have that.”

Guilt, as many of you know, is an evergreen emotion, especially around parents’ deaths. It crops up like weeds in driveway cracks and is hard to conquer. Did I do enough? Was everything said before the end? Was there something I missed?

With the medical candor that seems to come only after death, Dad’s doctor appraised his condition: “Your father was going nowhere, sir. He’s at peace now.”

After the funeral, I was going through my father’s office. There were drawers of slides from family occasions and trips. Old check registers. A childhood postcard I'd sent from camp.  

One bottom drawer in a huge cabinet seemed stuck. Quite heavy. I finally pulled it open, and out spilled pieces of newspapers. The drawer was a foot deep, crammed solid with newspaper clippings, some new, some old and yellowed. 


What in the world was this all about? 

I picked up some of the newspaper pages. I wanted to read what subject had so fascinated my father. Only then, with a sudden bolt of recognition, did I realize what Dad had been doing for so many years without ever saying anything. 

All these clippings were mine. Every single one. Thousands of them. Even the stories without bylines he had recognized as his son’s. All carefully scissored, dated, and stored.

Dad had said numerous times he was proud of me. Then, that one final time, even in his absence, he taught me another lesson without saying anything.

Previous Memories:

My Father's Sly Trick About Smoking That Saved My Life

Encounters with Fame 2.0 

His Name Was Edgar. Not Ed. Not Eddie. But Edgar. 

My Encounters With Famous People and Someone Else

The July 4th I Saw More Fireworks Than Anyone Ever 

This is the sixth in an occasional series of Memories that RedState editors suggested I share. Feel free to share your relevant memories on today's post in the Comments below, as many others have on previous Memories. I hope you enjoyed this and will pass it on to others. Follow me @AHMalcolm


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