My Dad’s Final Letter

by bryan maynard

My Dad

Six years ago I did something really hard. I had to speak at my own father’s funeral. On the morning of July 24, 2006, I was playing tennis with a friend when an employee from the tennis club interrupted our game to ask “is there a ‘Bryan Maynard’ here?”

My blood went cold. “I am he,” I said. ”Sir, you have an emergency phone call.” I had to walk about 150 yards to the phone. I was shaking by the time I got to the receiver, and I could barely make out my wife’s broken words, “you…have to…come home…right now.” She wouldn’t tell me what was wrong. She didn’t want me to have to drive with the news she was about to share with me.

When I pulled into the driveway she ran out the front door and met me at my car where she grabbed me, and through sobbing spasms, told me my father was gone. My father was dead. For the first time in my entire life, I did not have a father. He had died during the night, in his sleep, from a massive heart attack. I stood there in the driveway, trying to let those words register in my head…and my heart. My children were still sleeping. I remember walking up the steps to their rooms, opening the doors and just standing there watching them sleep. “So peaceful now,” I thought. “I am about to wake them up to a soul-wrenching pain that I can’t prevent. The world will be different for them now.” I’m not sure what was harder: my dad dying, or watching my young daughters and son experience the terror and grief of facing my father’s death.

When we arrived at my mother’s home and finished the preparations for his funeral, she took me and my sister with her to the bank where my father had a safety deposit box. “He told me if anything ever happened, he wanted me to come here to open this box.”  The bank employee brought a gray, rectangle box to us in a quiet room where we were waiting. She slowly opened the box, looking at us with a kind of holy dread. I was shaking by now from the hours of constant, intense adrenaline and grief…She opened the box, and my mother found in it a white envelope that hadn’t been sealed with a letter folded inside. A simple, short letter, handwritten on yellow legal pad paper with my father’s own pen, had been placed here as a final message to say important things to us.

We read the letter together. It was surreal. My internal circuits were approaching something near shock. This was his handwriting. It was his voice, his message, in the letter and he was telling us now, in his last communication, what he wanted to impress upon us for the rest of our lives.

I would like to share with you what my father left us in that letter. It was a declaration on how he wanted us to live and be in this world. Here’s what he said.

“If you are reading this letter, it means I’ve moved on from this life. There aren’t words to express how grateful I am for each one of you…I want you to be happy. Please, never take for granted the people in your life. Always be grateful for them and appreciate them. I’ve had some special people in my life, and for their influence on me, I am thankful. What I want to say to you now is: Be joyful. Live with hope. Live with love. Live the moments you have. The torch is yours now. Take it and run. And, run with joy. You have been my greatest joy in life. I love you, Dad.” (He drew 2 tears by his signature, “Dad”)

I remember my dad saying to me over and over: “All I want for you is to be happy. When it all comes down to what I want for you, I just want you to be happy.”

What I’m learning about living is this: Joy is essential to being human. It’s not optional. Joy is, I think, what we are made of. It’s part of who you and I are. Joy is also the thing we want to go for in life. We do things for the joy we get out of doing them. And, joy is the energy by which we live our lives. So, the torch is yours, friend. Take the torch and run. Run with joy and run for joy and let joy energize all you do.

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