Taylor Smith is a dear friend, a true inspiration, and a gifted communicator. I invited her to write a guest blog today to shed light on what it’s like as a 27-year old to navigate life after the death of her father. She reminds us that the legacy we leave behind speaks powerfully even after we’re gone.
I got a call from you today.
Well, sort of.
“Hi, Taylor. I came across a file of your dads. Looks like it contains some personal things. I thought you might like to have it.”
“What? I mean, yes. Yes. I would like to have it. I would love to have it, actually.”
“Great. I’m glad I was able to track you down, Taylor. I hope all is well.”
Dad, that is so your style,
coming in right outta the middle of nowhere,
all of your 78-inches somehow stuffed into this bulky, white envelope, which my fingers gripped so tight my knuckles turned white.
I wasn’t expecting you to arrive this way.
I mean, I think about you every day, but I didn’t think I’d be sitting on my living room floor, holding onto what I could only assume were
pieces of you,
in some forgotten file folder that was left in a sea of other forgotten file folders somewhere in a closet.
But here it was.
Here you were.
Uninvited and undeniably commanding the center of my attention in a matter of seconds
in a way that no one else could.
When I slid my finger under the envelope’s opening, I was holding my breath.
And I’m pretty sure I still wasn’t breathing when I tipped the envelope down and a red folder slid into my lap.
Open it, Taylor. Come on. Just do it.
But it’s not that easy, you see.
Because it wasn’t just a matter of opening a folder that contained some of my dad’s things –
Opening this folder also meant opening up part of my soul,
the deep, hidden part that craves just one more day,
one more hour
to create a last precious father-daughter memory.
And that’s a really raw place to tear open.
So it’s really not that easy.
But I did it.
The first piece of paper was a letter circa early 2000.
The letterhead stated Arkansas Swimming Hall of Fame.
“Dear Arthur, as you know, because of your outstanding contribution to the sport of swimming in the state of Arkansas, you have been inducted into the Arkansas Swimming Hall of Fame.”
Whoa. Hold up. Dad, this is a BIG DEAL. Why didn’t you tell me about this??
The letter went on to talk about my dad’s swimming career, most of which I already knew, but when it was there, printed on this formal letter, it made my eyes go wide, my heart swell with pride.
Dad, you were the dark horse, the unheard of swimmer who somehow conquered it all. You were nationally ranked, a five-time All American. You were a champion.
You were so much more than a swimmer, Dad, but I am so proud that you didn’t let your inexperience in the swimming world hold you back. You did it. You worked so hard and you made your mark.
So with this mysterious folder, business was off to a good start. But who knew what else was buried in the pile.
Mechanically, I reached for the next thing in the stack- a card “For a Son Who’s Loved So Much.”
It was a “just because” card from my dad’s mom, who I called my nana.
Nana and I weren’t super close. We never really had the opportunity to be, living more than a thousand miles apart. To tell you the truth, I always thought that I would never be able to relate to her – a sophisticated Southern woman and me, a prank-loving, spontaneous-dancing, free-spirit child.
But reading her words allowed me to learn more about my nana –and her relationship to her son, my dad- than I had ever known.
“Words cannot express my love for you – it grows every year, if that is even possible. How I cherish the loving memories of your childhood (rosy red cheeks that looked as good as apples)… You are my Guardian Angel.”
Wow, Dad. You and nana must have been really close. I know I didn’t know her very well, but she really loved you. I’m so glad that you were so loved by your mom – that she thought the world of you. Because you so deserved that, Dad. You really did.
The next few things were business documents that didn’t mean much to me,
but behind those pages were what I had been hoping for, yet not hoping for,
the really personal stuff.
The stack of cards that I was holding in my hands wasn’t just my dad,
it was my mom, too – letters she had written him from their nearly 15 years of marriage.
I tell you, this folder was the most beautiful gift.
I learned a lot about my dad,
about some things that he was too humble to share,
about him as a son and as a husband,
a man who was deeply loved, deeply passionate, and all together, deeply deep.
Yup. That was my dad. One deep dude.
I finished reading the cards and closed the folder, only wishing that there had been just a few more cards, a few more keepsakes or napkin-scribbled notes that could bring more of him back to me.
When you lose someone you love, there are
days when your heart is heavy,
days when you just need a good cry, or scream,
days when you are angry at their not being there,
days when your memories of them bring you this amazing warmth,
days when you shout thanksgiving praise that you even got to know them at all.
Then there are days like this one,
when you receive the blessing of a mysterious file folder, filled with things you never would have asked for -had a genie granted you five wishes- and you find yourself rolling on the floor, laughing, thinking that
I have the best dad ever. Thank you, God. Thank you for this moment, too. I will always remember it. I will always remember you, Dad.