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An Open Letter to My Dad: Love, Loss and Memories

{Note: This letter was inspired by a column at McSweeney’s.}


I remember the day mom came home and said she was going on a date with you. I asked mom, “Well, what’s his name?”

And she said, “I don’t remember! It’s a different name; one that I don’t hear often.”

When mom came home that night she told me your name. I’d never heard the name Mahlon before and though it was cool and different.

I met you when I was in 5th grade. I was a gangly little girl, who was extremely shy and looking for a little direction in life. When we met for the first time you seemed nervous. Your hands were buried deep in your front pockets and you looked down at the gray cement driveway and said hello. I remember thinking how nice and kind you seemed.

I remember when you asked my permission to marry my mom. You said you didn’t want to marry her if I didn’t like you; that you wanted to be part of our family. And I wanted you to be part of our family too. Then off we went to the Hallmark store, looking for the perfect card for mom. And indeed, we found the perfect singing card. You couldn’t get down on one knee and propose because your knee was busted. You hurt yourself trying to chase us down the ski slopes.

I remember all the basketball games you came to, swim meets, ski meets, and all the times we took long drives up to Lake Tahoe, just so mom and I could ski together. Remember the time we went to Mammoth for the state ski finals and we stumbled across a dozen St. Bernard puppies at a random gas station? Mom climbed into their pen, started barking with the dogs, and we howled with laughter. She has always been a free spirt.

I wish I could talk about these good-times with you, but you’re so ill. Parkinson’s disease, dementia and two stokes have taken their toll. I can’t call the house and talk to you anymore because you’re so confused. And I have to admit, I’m terrified that you won’t come back to us and that you’ll be trapped in a body that doesn’t work.

I know you would tell me to live my life and be good to my mom and I am doing those things to the best of my ability. But I’m scared. I’m scared of losing you and forgetting all the good memories; that they they will fade away with the passing seasons and years. You would probably tell me that you’ve lived a wonderful, good life, and that’s true.

Loss is inevitable, love never dies and memories are around forever. All clichés, I know, but I hope their simple wisdom will help you (and us) as your story continues to unfold.

With love,

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Elisa May 17, 2012, 9:50 am

    It’s beautiful… Stay strong, Tammy x

  • Erin May 17, 2012, 10:22 am

    Oh gosh, here I am crying all over myself. I am so sorry that Mahlon, your mother and you are going through all of this. I really don’t know what to say, other than “Hang in there.” You’re a good daughter.

  • Sharon May 17, 2012, 10:25 am

    Beautifully written. And now, I am all weepy at my desk at work. Sorry for his circumstance.

  • Currie May 17, 2012, 10:39 am

    Letting Go is a Journey, perhaps one we’ll all BE on for Life. MayBE even BEyond… What amazes me is how we seem always to forget that every moment we are in the process of Letting Go. I love what you have written BEcause in each of its letters that dance together as words that carry your heart you are managing the most difficult of maneuvers… Holding Close and Letting Go in the same breath and heartbeat.

    Sometimes people DO surprising show up in Life and in barely a blink we can no longer imagine our Life without them as part of it. Similarly, when they go, whether in small yet significant ways over time, or suddenly, all at once, just GONE, it is like when a plane loses altitude and for a second [or days, weeks, months, even years] we can’t seem to catch our breath.

    Loss and Love are both parts of this glorious Life. Parts we know and have rationalised so that when say this [or in my case, and yours, write] we BElieve we really mean it. The thing is, though, it simply is NOT a rational thing. It is all messy, these feelings and memories and snapshots that live forever in ourselves…

    I am deeply grateful to you, Tammy, for “speaking out loud” and sharing this wonderful open letter to Mahlon, your Dad. We sometimes forget in the hurry and rush and always “on” of Life as it is Now that there is good in Goodbyes. Your gift to me, and I am imagining others, too, is the little tap on my forehead that reminds me to love those who are here, in my Life and World Right Now, and remember the generosity that is BEing human and loving other humans.

    Beautiful words, truly and magnificently woven together.

  • alexa May 17, 2012, 11:58 am

    So very beautifully and thoughtfully written. I love your weaving together of loss, love and memories.
    (I too have a Mum with Parkinson’s.)

  • Judy May 17, 2012, 12:03 pm

    Your letter brought tears to my eyes. Two years ago, I lost my mother. Through her illness and hospice, I was too busy helping to take care of her to think about writing a letter. Several months after she passed, I sat down and wrote that letter. I needed to get my feelings down. It was very helpful.

    I truly understand what you are going through, the difficultly and sadness. Three months after my mother passed and one month after I lost a brother in law to cancer, my youngest daughter was getting married. One day she commented on my how does she have a right to be happy when so much sadness had just occured. My explanation to her was that both of the people we lost would not want her to feel that way. Losing loved ones reminds us of how precious life is and we need to live life to its fullest, Life has its ups and downs, its ebbs and flows. We need to except this and go with the flow. We always have the memories and I have some very special ones of the loved ones I have lost.

  • Pascale May 17, 2012, 12:06 pm

    Hi Tammy,
    I read the letter you wrote to your dad. Yesterday, I read something that made me think of you and your dad and how lifestyle changes can positively impact Parkinson’s. Here’s the link.

    My dad cured himself of melanoma skin cancer with this lifestyle. My husband has been doing this since 1999 and he’s never ill, not even a cold.

    I wish my uncle would have done this, he too had Parkinson’s. Unfortunately, he preferred the traditional medical route with no lifestyle changes and prescription medication. He slowly drifted away and is no longer with us.

    I am praying for you and your family.

  • A. Serna May 17, 2012, 12:53 pm

    Beautifully written. I know how it feels to care for an ill parent, my heart aches for you and your family. Stay strong.

  • Annette May 17, 2012, 1:39 pm

    This is from your heart and really tugs at mine. I realize through your letter how important it is to let my family know how important they are while I still can. God bless you as you go through this difficult time.

  • Emma May 17, 2012, 1:44 pm

    Your Dad sounds like an amazing man, Tammy. I have had some experience within my own family of Parkinsons and dementia, and all that I can say is to encourage you to show Mahlon your love and support, let him know that you are still there for him, even though he may not even seem to recognise you. He is still there inside. My own memories of loved ones haven’t faded with loss, but become stronger and more clear with time. After the illness is gone, the memories of the real person seem to flood back into perspective. Stay strong, and thank you for a wonderful blog post.

    Emma (on Blogging from the Heart).

  • Angie May 17, 2012, 1:46 pm

    Such a beautiful letter, I’m all teary too! x

  • Rose Byrd May 17, 2012, 1:47 pm

    Tammy, this is a deeply moving letter, so beautifully composed. You more than balance the sadness of Mahlon’s infirmities and confused state of mind with your expertly described happy times with him. He was such a generous, giving man. How wonderful for you and your mom to have Mahlon. I completely believe there is a part of him that still realizes how much you all love him. Keep that faith, dear Tammy.

  • Kathleen May 17, 2012, 1:54 pm

    Beautiful.. thank you soooooo much for sharing this. What a gift to us.

  • Anonymous May 17, 2012, 2:32 pm

    A beautiful Heartfelt letter to your Dad.
    This journey with your Dad is a gift.

  • Amanda H May 17, 2012, 6:25 pm

    What a beautiful letter, and such an open heart to share this with us. Thank you for taking that risk.

    Best wishes to you, your father, and the rest of your family at this time.

  • K. May 17, 2012, 8:10 pm


    I thought you might find this interesting. It’s about a documentary called “Alive Inside.” Nursing homes are using music for dementia patients and their response is amazing. The key is music the patient loved in earlier years. I am working on a proposal to use it at the nursing home where I do advertising and marketing.
    Your letter is a lovely tribute.
    Take care,

  • Ryan N May 17, 2012, 9:59 pm

    A fitting tribute to your father showing your tremendous skills as a writer. Well done.

  • ingrid May 18, 2012, 4:20 am

    dear Tammy’
    I will thank you for sharing this.
    With deep respect,
    Love from the netherlands,

  • Angela May 18, 2012, 8:04 am

    Long time reader, first time to comment.

    What a beautiful letter not only for your dad, but for you to cherish those moments. You have a magical gift with your writing and photography that’s truly inspiring.

    People always say stay strong, but to be honest sometimes I find my greatest strength from a good cry … I wash away my doubts and find hope again. I’m sorry you and your family are on this difficult journey, but positive things are happening from you taking the time to share your story.

    I was having a sorry for myself moment this morning and then I checked your blog and read your heartfelt letter, and it completely grounded me again. Life is about family, friends and making moments into memories … not the other ‘stuff’ we clutter our lives with.

    Thank you for sharing your journey, thank you for a refreshing blog about what’s important in life and thank you for just being you (:

    Keep smiling,

  • Brenda Alvarez May 18, 2012, 8:19 am

    beautiful memories. beautiful letter. thank you for sharing Tammy.

  • Abel Zyl Zimmerman May 18, 2012, 8:24 am

    You are strong and eloquent to articulate beauty in the aging (and eventual passing) of the body. When we are young, it is all a ruse (thankfully) and when we get old, well… letting go can be one of the most beautiful acts of living. Good on you, Tammy.

  • Next Starfish May 18, 2012, 12:44 pm

    Tammy – truly saddened by your Dad’s situation.
    My thoughts and prayers from England.

  • A-M May 18, 2012, 1:37 pm

    You are so blessed to have a Dad and beautiful memories. Hold on to that. You have a Dad and he loved you so.
    A-M xx

  • Denise May 18, 2012, 3:40 pm

    Perfection. Sending love, prayers, and hugs your way. Keep communicating with him, as you never really know just how much he understands. In those moments of clarity, he’ll adore having your voice filling the void.

  • sigrid schirdewahn May 19, 2012, 5:59 pm

    What a beautiful and loving letter… thank you so much for sharing. I’m sending you positive thoughts and strength to help you through…

  • Mary May 19, 2012, 8:12 pm

    Beautifully written. He is fortunate to have you in his life. Keep writing. It’s so important. Thank you.

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