Lauren opened her eyes and took a moment to get her bearings. After blinking a couple of times, the fog cleared, and she remembered she’d stretched out for a nap on the living room couch. As she slowly sat up, the residual soreness from the C-section two weeks earlier made her wince.
However, when she swung her legs over the edge of the couch, she realized she did feel better after sleeping. Glancing at her watch, Lauren was surprised to see that she had been asleep for about an hour.
She was thankful that Eric had the day off and could watch Hannah. It had been a long night, and when he offered to sit with their baby so she could get some rest, she didn’t hesitate to take him up on it.
At the other end of the house, her husband was holding their daughter and making funny faces at her. For Eric, it was still difficult to believe they were really parents, and that Hannah was actually their child. It made him think back to the morning when they received the positive test results showing that their daughter had Down syndrome. Although they were initially surprised, Lauren and Eric quickly made the decision to continue the pregnancy and become a family.
He thought about how much he loved his wife, and how she was going to be the perfect mom to Hannah – but, unfortunately, he was not as confident in his own ability to measure up as a dad and that worried him. His daughter deserved to have the perfect father, and he didn’t want to disappoint her.
Back in the front room, Lauren carefully stood up and made her way down the hallway to the bedroom. She wanted to check on Hannah and see how Eric was managing. As she got to the doorway, she saw her husband of six years sitting in a chair, gently rocking their baby.
He looked up and smiled at his wife. “She’s been awake for a couple of minutes. What about you? Were you able to get some sleep?”
“I sure did. It was wonderful. Thank you.”
Eric shook his head. “It was amazing just to sit and watch her sleep. She’s incredible.”
“Yes, she is.” Lauren happened to glance over at the bed, and she noticed an open envelope with the words For Hannah written on it. There also appeared to be a handwritten letter that was visible. Pointing to it, she asked, “What’s that?”
Eric blushed. “Oh, it’s just something I’ve been working on the last couple of weeks……You might think it’s silly, but it’s a letter about being a good father to Hannah. I finally finished it, and I was going to seal it in the envelope, but she woke up, so I stopped to rock her.”
Lauren was surprised. “What are you going to do with the letter?”
“I thought I would file it away and then read it on her twenty-first birthday. That way I can look back to see if I was the kind of dad she deserved.”
Lauren was touched. “That is so lovely – but there’s nothing to worry about. You’re going to be a wonderful father.”
“I hope so.”
“And you said the letter is finished?”
“Yeah. I wish I could’ve been more eloquent, but it’s the best I could do.”
They sat quietly for a few moments while Lauren waited to see if he would offer to let her read it, but that didn’t happen, and she understood. They were his private thoughts, and she respected that. Maybe someday they would read it together.
Eric looked down at his daughter, and in a hushed tone, he said, “You took a nice nap, little girl. Too bad you couldn’t have done that last night for mommy.” He gently touched her on the cheek. “You don’t know it, but you have your mother’s bright blue eyes. They’re beautiful.”
His wife shook her head. “I don’t know how I got lucky enough to marry you.”
Eric smiled again. “I think all three of us are lucky to be on this adventure together. I just want to make sure that the next twenty-one years don’t slip by without appreciating every day. I don’t want to ever make the mistake of taking my family for granted.”
Lauren stood up and walked over to her husband. “That will not happen because you’re not that kind of person. Together we’ll give Hannah all the love and attention she needs, and I think that someday when you read that letter again, you’ll realize that you were a terrific father and that we raised a daughter who became an amazing young lady.”
She leaned down and gently kissed her husband on the forehead. “I love you – and I love our little girl.”
Eric and Lauren spent the next two decades being the best parents they could be, and their daughter thrived in the positive environment. Just as predicted, Hannah turned into an extraordinary person, and Eric could not have been prouder of her. Their small family was the most important thing in his life, and he did everything he could to ensure their happiness.
But, as we all eventually learn, being a good person does not grant you immunity from the horrors of life that are constantly lurking in the shadows. Just as Hannah was reaching adulthood, an inconceivable tragedy suddenly shattered their world.
Eric had shown no indications of ill health, and he was in good spirits when he left for work on a sunny Tuesday morning. With a busy day scheduled at the office, he wanted to make sure that the first meeting started on time. He was engaged in conversation with a co-worker as they briskly walked down a hallway when suddenly he began to stagger. Struggling to maintain his balance, he took several more steps before the blood vessel ruptured in the left hemisphere of his brain. His awareness was quickly enveloped in pitch-blackness as he helplessly collapsed to the floor.
Eric was rushed by ambulance to a nearby emergency room, where a battery of tests revealed the aneurysm that was causing the internal bleeding. The life and death struggle then moved to the ICU and played out for another thirty-six hours, but the damage to the surrounding brain tissue proved to be catastrophic. Hannah’s father began to lose his tenuous hold on life.
Just three weeks shy of his daughter’s twenty-first birthday, Eric died without regaining consciousness.
The shock of her husband’s death was almost too much for Lauren to comprehend, and it left her devastated. All of their plans for the future were gone in an instant, and it was sickening to know that they would never be together again as a family.
Feeling utterly alone, she could not begin to imagine how she was going to face the rest of her life without Eric – but she had no choice. Lauren now had the sole responsibility of caring for her daughter, and, somehow, she had to find a way to be strong.
That meant she not only had to deal with her own crushing grief, she also had to comfort Hannah who was absolutely distraught over the loss of her father. Eric had been an incredible dad, and Hannah worshipped him. In her eyes, he could do no wrong, and throughout her life, they had a beautiful relationship that was truly heartwarming. But now he was gone, and nothing would ever be the same.
In the first few weeks after Eric’s death, the two women were incapacitated by grief. They were both overwhelmed by a profound sense of loss that was so painful it was difficult to bear. But at least they had each other, and that allowed them to struggle on. Slowly over time, with grim determination, they began to regain a small sense of normalcy.
It was several months later that Lauren finally found the emotional strength to begin to go through her husband’s belongings. She had spent an hour or so sorting through assorted documents and papers when she stumbled across the envelope her husband had sealed twenty-one years before. Seeing Hannah’s name on it took her breath away as the memory of that day flooded back.
Lauren’s first reaction was tremendous disappointment in herself. It was hard to believe that during the intervening years she had somehow managed to forget that Eric had put down on paper his feelings about being a new father. But that emotion was soon replaced with the fervent hope that perhaps through his writing she could still make a deep connection with the man she loved.
Her hands trembled as she stared at the envelope. Because the letter represented such a happy time in their lives, she desperately wanted to relive that moment. Perhaps reading her husband’s thoughts would make him feel like he was in the room with her, sitting by her side.
She dropped down on the edge of the bed and gently unfolded the message he had lovingly written to their daughter at the time of her birth.
As she began to read, Lauren could clearly hear Eric’s voice in her mind.
My Dearest Hannah,
I am the luckiest man in the world because I’ve been given two magical days in my life; the day I married your beautiful mother and the day you were born. I just want you to know how blessed I feel that I get to be your dad, and I am truly thankful that you are healthy, and that we are now a family.
However, I have to admit that, months ago, when we first found out you had an extra chromosome, I began to worry that life was going to be different than what we had planned. I couldn’t help but think about all the things that might or might not happen in your life.
But that was before I got to hold you for the first time. Once I looked into your eyes, none of that mattered anymore. I stopped worrying about the future, and I decided we would enjoy our lives in the present. I adjusted my expectations – but not my love.
I know you will grow up fast, so I don’t want to miss a single opportunity to spend time with you. We’re going to make a lifetime of memories together. In fact, by the time I read this letter again, twenty-one years will have gone by, and you will be a young woman. That is hard to imagine because right now you are so tiny and helpless that it makes me want to protect you for the rest of my life.
But I can hardly wait to see the amazing person you become. I am sure you will have a positive influence in life. You will teach people that we all want the same things and share the same hopes and dreams – and I promise I will do everything I can to help you make your dreams come true.
But that is not the only promise I want to make.
I want to assure you that during the next twenty-one years, I will be vigilant in guarding your health and safety at all times.
I will never let others put you down or make you feel like you don’t belong because you deserve to be treated fairly just like every other person.
I will be patient as you are learning, and even though some milestones may be delayed, it will not diminish the joy I feel when I watch you achieve something that took great persistence and perseverance.
I will praise each small improvement and every step forward because I will know how much effort went into accomplishing something that might come easier to others. I will be proud of your achievements because they will reflect your character and your desire to do everything you can for yourself.
I will always put you first because you deserve my undivided attention. As your father, I realize the greatest gift I can give you is my time, so I will remember to value all of the simple quiet moments we share that will one day become heartwarming memories.
I will provide a shoulder for you to lean on during difficult times, and I’ll lift you up when you fall. I will be your protector when life is unfair and your greatest defender when you face injustice.
I will always try to be gentle, understanding, and forgiving. And even though I may sometimes have difficulty verbally expressing just how much I love you – I will try to show it in a thousand different ways.
I will try to make you laugh because your laughter will be the happiest sound in the world – and when you cry, I’ll comfort you because your tears will bring me my greatest pain. And although I will always try to be strong, you will be able to melt my heart with a simple hug.
Each year on Father’s Day, just like every other dad, I will be thrilled to receive the ugliest socks, ties, and sweaters imaginable. But what will truly touch me are the personal gifts that you have created. The roughly drawn pictures, the finger-painted artwork and handwritten cards, complete with misspellings, will all become keepsakes I’ll always treasure.
When you are younger, I will be happy to sit in a tiny chair and have a tea party with you. I will rock your dolls and attempt to play house even if you keep telling me I’m not doing it right. And, hopefully, when you are older, I will proudly go to a father-daughter event where I’ll be the luckiest dad there because I get to dance with the most beautiful girl.
Hannah, as I sit here watching you sleep, I feel so privileged to be your father, and I know that, for the rest of my life, it will be the title I cherish most. That is why even after you’ve grown up and become a young lady, you will still be my little girl.
Through all of life’s struggles, I will be there for you. I will stay by your side, and I will be your best friend.
But the most important promise I can make is that I will always love you with all my heart.
In an instant, a wave of anguish swept over Lauren causing the letter to slip from her hand as she began to sob for the years they would never share.