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Valentine’s Day

A duffel bag of clothes, an old guitar, a section of obituaries torn from the Sunday Times. This is what it takes to say goodbye to my father.

In a way, the goodbye started more than 10 years ago when I found a bottle of St. John’s Wort in his medicine cabinet. For a man too hardy to believe in doctors, this was a startling admission of vulnerability. A label on the back of the bottle offered hopefully that the pills might prevent memory loss. The security of grasping at straws. He was a licensed architect who had memorized the values of trigonometric functions and carried an encyclopedic knowledge of building codes in his head. And now he owned a bottle of unproven medicine—something you could get without consulting a doctor or talking to your family. It was the first logical step in a quiet, private battle with dementia. I closed the medicine cabinet and let it remain private.

Dad was more than an architect. He was an accomplished athlete, a musician, an artist, a mechanic. He was the closest thing to a Renaissance Man I have ever known. And he was funny, which is the best skill of all at the dinner table. And most important, he was a good father.

So tonight, one more time, I will pull out the old guitar and play the same songs he used to sing to me when I was a child. And he will fall asleep to them as I used to fall asleep. And then I’ll pull out the torn sheet of obituaries—a page of love letters on this Valentine’s Day—and try to learn from them how you say goodbye to someone you love beyond words.

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