" Jeff, I love you."
Those were the last words my dad, Dick Smith, said to me before he passed. He had been dealing with dementia for a number of years, his world slowly narrowing as he lost connections to his friends and loved ones. He was such a charming man, if you didn't know him well, you wouldn't have notice that he didn't recognize someone. "Here comes trouble," he would say every time he saw my wife, unable to find her name in his memory. In all that time, however, he had never forgotten me, until the very last time we visited with him. He had stopped eating, withdrawing deeper and deeper into himself, and that day there was no recognition on his face as I spoke with him.
It was a hard visit, sitting with this man who had been such a force in my life and realizing I wasn't part of his life any longer. When I got up to leave, knowing it might be the last time I saw him, I was struggling. Then he called out "Jeff, I love you." I turned and there he was, my dad, aware and engaged. "I love you too, Dad," I said, and he nodded and smiled and already the recognition was beginning to fade. He passed away the next morning, the day before his 81st birthday.
I can only remember two times, as an adult, that my dad said he loved me. I'm sure there were many more, but two times were special, and way more meaningful because of the circumstances in which they were uttered. My dad liked to brag on his four boys, but not to us directly. He'd tell me how proud he was of the others and what they were up to, but not tell me how proud he was of me. My brothers have all shared similar stories of hearing Dad bragging on the rest of us. His mother, my Grandma Marg, was the opposite. When you were with Marg, you were the only person in the world, for good or bad, and there was a lot of both. I think Dad was trying to protect us from the brunt of his own personality by not shining such a forceful spotlight on us.