My childhood was filled with hunting, camping, and fishing trips. My parents did not have much money, but they gave us a far better currency — their time. One Thanksgiving I watched my mom and dad cook together. As my father worked beside my mother, my heart filled with love and admiration. I just wanted to say, "I love you, Dad." Throughout the day, I tried to speak those difficult words "I lov . . ." But I could not utter the words.
Thanksgiving dinner came and went. I laid on my bed, stuffed like the turkey that had sat on the table a short time ago. What a great time we'd had, family time and wonderful food. My only regret is that I had not spoken those three difficult words—I love you.
I awoke early the next day. Fall had given way to wintry weather, and a fresh blanket of snow lay gently upon the mountains. My father had decided to go deer hunting with my brothers. I went skiing.
After an invigorating day on the slopes, I returned home. The house was cold and still. I called out, but no one answered. Usually, Mom was always busy in the kitchen preparing one meal or another. The quietness was broken by the sudden shrill ring of the telephone.
"Your father has been shot in a hunting accident," said a neighbor from the farm house nearby. "He's in surgery and not expected to live."
At that moment my failure to say "I love you" pushed down on me like the weight of the fallen sky. The neighbor came over and quickly drove me to the hospital.
Trembling, I entered the intensive care unit. My father lay motionless on a hospital bed. Tubes sprouted from every part of his body. He could not breathe on his own. He was the rock in my life. He had always been there for me. When I learned to drive he coached me, when I wanted to drop out of college he encouraged me to keep going and not give up. Now he lay lifeless, totally dependent on machines.
Soon, I discovered the details of the accident. A high-powered rifle bullet had hit him in the chest and exited under his arm. The bullet took out four ribs and a third of his lung.
Bone fragments and metal chips now rested within a quarter inch of his heart. All I could think was that he was slipping into eternity without hearing those words "I love you." Afraid to leave him, I sobbed uncontrollably as I clung to his bedside.
"It's time to go," said the critical care nurse. "The next twenty-four hours will be critical."
I returned home heavy hearted. My mother called my sister and two brothers and me together. For the first time we prayed as a family. Mom asked me to pray that God would spare Dad's life. All I could think of was that I wanted just one more chance to express my love to my father. After praying, we looked one another in the eyes and said those forbidden words—"I love you."
At that moment my fear of expressing those words was broken. I knew that our family would never be the same. But would it be too late for my father?
None of us got much sleep that night. I expected the phone to ring at any moment—a call to announce that my father had slipped into eternity. Early in the morning the phone did ring. My heart almost stopped beating.
"This is the hospital," said a nurse. "We just wanted your family to know that your father has made a miraculous recovery. He is awake and asking for all of you."
"Thank you, dear God, for giving me another chance," I uttered as I hung up the phone.
That morning we gathered around my father's bedside. His first words to us were "I love you." I was able to tell him that I loved him, too.
By the time Dad was released from the hospital it was almost Christmas. The joy of his return was soon dampened by the financial reality of no health insurance and a $25,000 medical bill. Needless to say, we did not exchange presents that year. Instead, we sat Dad next to the Christmas tree on Christmas morning and covered him with bows. Having him alive and with us to love was the best present we could ever have. I wrapped my arms around my father and looked into his eyes and said, "I love you."
This story is from Chicken Soup for the Father and Son Soul: Celebrating the Bond That Connects Generations © 2011 Chicken Soup for the Soul, LLC. All rights reserved.
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