Whenever anyone asks me about my favorite gift that I have ever been given, I always say that it was a piano that my dad gave me when I was about thirteen, just a few years after the difficult divorce of my parents. Dad told me that his roommate had bought a new piano and that I should try it out. I was playing for about ten minutes, when dad said “actually Kate, the piano is for you.” I was very surprised. That gift meant so much to me.
Two weeks ago my dad passed away.
That sentence is loaded with so much emotion that I can barely even write it down. Winsome emotions attached to memories I have as a little girl, sitting in his lap and feeling the rough stubble on his chin against my face. Aching attached to the fact that he was so sad the last few years of his life that it was very difficult to connect with him. Anger that I was not able to say goodbye.
I have often wished that I could have a father that hugged me often and used his words to express that he loved me on a more regular basis. Physical affection and words of encouragement are the ways that I best understand love. Those were not often his ways of expressing love. But I am learning now that his lack of outward affection didn’t mean he didn’t love me. He loved me very deeply. He just expressed it in ways that I didn’t always see or understand.
My dad sold the house he lived in and moved into an apartment just weeks before he died. He didn’t want my brothers and I to have to deal with the mortgage. It seems that he sensed he didn’t have much longer to live.
At first I was angry that dad didn’t invite us into those last few months of his life. I always thought that I would have the deathbed talk that you see in the movies where everything is made right. Where you knew your dad loved you. Where you knew you were a good daughter.
But something I realized after he died was that my dad was loving us even in his last days the way that he knew how to love. He didn’t want to burden us. He didn’t want us to be in pain by seeing him in pain. He wasn’t leaving us out because he didn’t love us. He was leaving us out because he did love us.
I know now why that piano always meant so much to me. It was a picture of the way that my dad loved. He knew that I loved to play and that I didn’t have a piano. So he found one for me. He saw the need and he filled it. That was his way of loving. Now, I can sit down at that piano and accept that gift with deep gratitude. I can accept that this was my dad’s way of loving me.
One of the greatest skills we can learn in life is to try to understand the love languages of the people in our lives. To learn to accept their love as love, even when it doesn’t feel like love to us. To truly believe that it is love despite our missed signals and misconceptions. Really, all of us are trying so hard to love one another but just aren’t always sure how to do it. Wouldn’t it be wise for us to simply realize that the people that are closest to us are trying really really hard to love? Just like we are trying so hard?
There are many ways to wrap a gift. My dad may have wrapped his messily with a brown paper bag and masking tape. I may put flowers and bows on mine. The truth is, one is not better than the other because of the wrapping.
When you open them up they both contain the same thing:
Do any of you have instances where you realized that someone was loving you even though you didn’t perceive it as love? Any favorite memories of loved ones that you have lost?