One Last Look

As I slowly back out of my parents’ driveway (after ostentatiously making a show of double-checking seatbelts and adjusting mirrors because I know they’re watching), I tell the girls to “Wave!” and we vigorously waggle our arms and blow big sloppy kisses as we head down their quiet street and turn towards the direction of the interstate. I pause right before we round the corner, staring into the rearview mirror at the two small white-haired figures standing next to each other, smiling and waving back at us. I will myself to remember this, to freeze this picture in my mind like a photograph that I’ll download onto my laptop when I get home. Right before I look away, I watch them drop their arms to their sides and start walking, carefully holding each other’s hand, back into their house.

I can’t quite see Mom’s face now, but I don’t have to; I know the expression on it by heart and I can read it in the way her body kind of droops slightly before she squares her shoulders and follows Daddy back inside. I know how to read that familiar gesture, it speaks volumes to me. It’s saying that goodbyes make her sad, that the house is going to be too quiet (well yeah, I bring two kids and three dogs into it when we visit), and that she isn’t really going to totally relax until she gets a phone call from me 7 hours from now saying that we have arrived back home in Tennessee, safe and sound. There’s a tinge of regret I think I can read there too, because it’s in her nature to regret– she’ll be momentarily re-thinking things she may have said, and things she didn’t. She’ll be wondering whether or not we ate enough breakfast to hold us, and wishing she had poked a little more fresh fruit down Charlotte, who “needs it.” She always gives me her standard goodbye which consists of taking my face into her two hands, peering intently into my eyes while warning me ‘not to push myself too hard’, and then whispering into my ear while kissing my cheek, “I love to see you come, but I hate to see you go!” Now she’ll go back into the house, make one more sweep of the place looking under beds and in drawers to make sure we didn’t leave anything (we always do) before she strips the beds and starts the laundry. That will keep her busy for a while. Mama stoically accepts that missing us is just part of the package, that it goes hand in hand with the pleasure of the visit. But it’s the part she hates.

Daddy, as always, is less complicated but just as sincere. His smiling goodbye includes a hug and kiss while he claps me on the back and says, “Ok, baby girl.” He’s already visually inspected the car as I was loading it, noting the tire pressure, asking about the gas mileage and whether or not I had filled it up because if I hadn’t, he knows the station that currently has the lowest prices. And then he gives me directions, though I already know where it is. He points out that I have a scratch near my front bumper, and says that they have these little bottles of paint at WalMart in the auto section that can touch that up, no problem. He picks up the dog beds that I have dropped on the driveway beside the car and holds them for me, waiting until I finish placing the suitcases in the trunk and work things around to make room for them. We both know that if he doesn’t at least look like he’s loading the car too, Mama will scold him– “Don, help her!” The fact that he is 92 and has had two heart attacks does not in any way change the image in her mind of the right thing to do when their daughter is lugging something heavy– hello, he’s supposed to pick it up and carry it for me. Daddy and I exchange conspiratorial looks as he hands me the dog beds and then picks up something else to hold. We’ve got this down to a science.

I drive down the service road and merge into the busy noon traffic. It’s a little drizzly, but the morning weather report said it won’t really rain until evening, so we’ll probably have an easy drive. I’ve got enough gas to get us to West Memphis which will probably be about the time we’ll want to get something to eat and the dogs will need to be let out. I reach for my cell phone to give Russ a call and tell him we’re on our way, ought to get there around dinner time, maybe we’ll just pick something up when we hit town. The girls both have their iPods in their ears, so they are talking a little louder than necessary. Charlotte is fussing at Phoebe to “Lie down, already,” while Madi reminds me that we didn’t give Thea her Dramamine, and if we don’t stop at Walgreens and get some we will probably be sorry. (She’s right– we didn’t stop and we were sorry.) My head is already in Nashville, and as I click on the cruise control and settle Pip into my lap, I’m making mental notes about all of the things we need to get done before school starts next week and wondering if the Master Gardener next door remembered to water my garden. Another visit home to Arkansas is over, and it’s time to get back to real life.




One of these days, dear God let it be later rather than sooner, I am going to get a phone call from one of my sisters. I will know immediately that something is wrong by the way they say my name. They will be calling from the emergency room, or the heart hospital or Mom and Dad’s house. There will be a frightening, but controlled and detailed report about what is happening and I will immediately start figuring out how to get there as fast as I can. I will be scared and praying under my breath while I talk to Russ and make plans for the girls and throw things into the car. My mind will race, my stomach will hurt and my heart will be aching. I’ll try to stop shaking so I’ll be safe to drive.

Or maybe the phone call will tell me I don’t have time to get there. It’s already over. Then it will be all about making arrangements and carrying out their wishes and notifying friends. We’ll gather from all over the country at Mom and Dad’s house, there will be lots of crying, and laughing, and telling stories, and grieving with my family. We’ll comfort each other by saying things like, “We were so blessed to have them as long as we did.” And at some point, after all the details are settled and contingency plans and decisions have all been made, another visit home to Arkansas will be over and it will be time to get back to real life.




The next day I will be waking up and drawing breath in a world that for the first time in 50-plus years won’t have one of my parents in it. I can’t even begin to imagine what that will feel like. I know it is inevitable. I know we are SO living on borrowed time with them. I know that they are secure in our love and their faith, and will face the end of their lives with the same humor, courage and dignity that they have always shown. I know that they haven’t been perfect parents, that all of us bear some scars and some hurts that were a result of being raised by two human beings with scars and hurts of their own. But somehow they managed to produce six children that grew into productive, healthy, functioning adults (shut up, we are too) that love each other and love the two of them. Isn’t that more than enough? Isn’t that like, a MIRACLE? The adult in me is at peace with all of it, grateful for what we still have and realistic about what will come. But the child in me, the baby of the family, secretly refuses to believe that it will ever really happen. Mom and Dad will always be there, sitting in their cozy house waiting for us to get home so we can eat, or standing side by side waving goodbye as we leave them. It’s embarrassing, but true. I am fundamentally, at my core, not ready to let them go.

I will when I have to, I know, I know. My parents have taught me well and I want them to be proud of me. Of course, they’ve had the advantage of a lifetime of practice, a lifetime of watching us all come and go. They’ve already learned what I am still trying to accept, and I see it in their faces every time I pull out of their driveway and head for home– “You can do this. It’s hard, but it’s OK. Don’t worry about us, we’ll be fine.” And they’re right, as always. We’ll all do what people who love each other do when they lose someone, and we’ll make it through together, blah blah blah. But regardless of how blessed I have been, and how grateful I am for the ‘extra’ time we’ve had with them, it’s not going to make it one bit less excruciating when it’s my turn to say goodbye. That’s the bittersweet message of the rearview mirror snapshot, I guess: It’s easier to be the one leaving than the one that is left.

34 Responses

  1. MostlySunny

    Tori –

    I’ve been there. Everytime I left my parents in CA (I live in PA) I always wondered – waving to them sitting on the porch as I rounded the bend – is this the last time? Mom’s gone now – 3 years next week. We weren’t close but still, that phone call hits you in the gut. And standing by that open grave thinking “I’ve never known life without her in it, good or bad.” Then seeing Dad trying to figure out how to live life on his own after 57 years! It’s hard and weird…but we do make it through. Blessings…

  2. Busymom

    No, it’s never easy, and you’re never prepared, but at the same time, it will be OK.

  3. French66


    I was just leaving a message for Russ while looking at his calendar online…and I decided to click into your blog…

    Wow…I could have not written this better myself…you put into words all the feelings that I have each time I leave my parents in Texas.

    I am the youngest of 3, and struggle daily with the fact that my parents are getting older.

    Thank you for this wonderful piece…awesome.

    Love you guys…Evan French

  4. LindaB

    Tori, you made me cry like a baby. It is so hard to think our sweet parents will someday leave us and we’ll have to muddle through the rest of our lives without them. I’m looking for a land where we never say goodbye. I think I found it. I believe I’ve found it.

    I used to do the same thing you did—–I’d look at my dad, who was suffering from cancer, and think is this the last picture of him that I’d ever see with my own eyes? As it turned out, the last time I saw him and spoke to him (before the coma) was at lunch in the hospital. He’d had so much chemo and potent drugs that he had no appetite. And he knew it would come right back up if he took a bite. And when the nurse brought in the tray of hospital food and set it before him, he whinced. And then he did something that I will remember forever——he bowed his head and prayed, thanking God for the food he could not even swallow. That was so my dad! I miss him so much. His absence never got easier.

    Now, I’m really a mess. I’m gonna go work in my garden—-something I believe I got from Dad. We were alike in so many ways.

  5. Phyllis S

    So well said, my deepest thought at my Mom’s funeral was “how do people that have no faith, no hope, no love make it THRU? We as Christians know we will have our Loved Ones waiting as we enter the Gates of Glory. Do we feel the pain any less as Christians, absolutely not, but the knowledge of everlasting life does make it easier to bear, to this I can attest.

    You are right busymom, it is OK.

    Enough tissue used today, now lets smile and Thank God for Everlasting life.

  6. teegees

    Wow. That’s all I can muster, I’m speechless. Beautifully eloquent, Tori.

  7. auburn60

    Your parents and my in-laws have that ‘loading the car’ thing going on. My MIL is always trying to ‘stick things’ in the cracks in the back of the SUV. Things like plants,paper towels, pillows,food. She hands it all to my FIL,who holds it while she tries to sneak it all in,while I try to retrieve it and take it all back out. In the mean -time, my husband is trying to load the car with the stuff we came with,plus all the junk the kids have acquired (translation: the junk the grandparents bought for the kids while we were there.)Husband gets mad at all of us,yells, and takes all the junk out and starts over.
    I am getting to that age–(close to Tori’s)–where a lot of my friends are losing their parents. I don’t even pretend to know what that will feel like. I don’t have the great memories or security of the love of parents who tried their hardest. I don’t know if that will make a difference in the grieving process or not.I DO know that I believe in Heaven. I firmly believe that I will see my loved ones again. Tori,maybe your Dad will greet you with a ‘Baby Girl’. Maybe you’ll introduce me to them and your Mom and I can have that talk about the Christadelphians. Maybe our reunions, when we finally get there,will be even sweeter because of the time we are apart.

  8. rockin robyn

    “God love you Tori Taff” and thank you very much for that… with eyes full of the wet stuff I picked up the phone and called my parents… they live 10 minutes from me and I love them very much but you can never say it enough…

    I just spent about 5 hours with a very dear girlfriend of mine last evening – who just lost her mom… Her mom was a neat neat lady, 89 years and past on one day before her birthday and on the very day of her late husbands birthday. Think of the birthday celebration that was “in that other place”… What a welcoming home party that probably was!

    But Tori you are a beautiful person and God sees the purity of that – that is what inspired this writing to come out… He will be with you always when that time does come but for now just enjoy knowing that your parents know you love them while they are here.

    Blessings on Madi for “pushing” mom to take this trip! This Taff family is really a special bunch!!! Truly!

  9. The Gospel Station

    Wow.. Just found your blog.. Thanks to Madi. Your story brings back so many memories of my folks. They are both in heaven now but I remember each time driving out of their driveway and seeing them both waving goodbye. Usually my mom had tears.. Enjoy and treasure the time you have with your folks. I look forward to seeing mineagain! It won’t be long!!

    Rick Cody

  10. LindaB

    I forgot to say that you are such an eloquent writer, Tori Taff! You have a talent for saying what almost everyone feels at one time or another, but cannot seem to find the words to express it. Or are afraid to say it for fear it will start a flood of tears that cannot be stopped. YOU are fearless! And provocatively honest.

  11. tori

    Ok, you have all been so kind in your comments AND we have more de-lurkers (YAY!!) So I really wanted to answer you back. Bear with me, m’kay?

    Mostlysunny–(Welcome!) My parents have a running joke/feud about who gets to ‘go’ first!. I can’t even picture them not together, it will be SUCH an adjustment for the one that’s left.

    Busymom–Thank you. I know you’ve walked that road.

    French66– (Welcome!) So glad you found me! I wonder if it is especially hard for us ‘babies of the family’ to accept the thought of parents dying…? Probably not, but it kinda feels that way sometimes.

    LindaB– OK, the picture your words painted of your sweet dad bowing his head made ME cry. What a poignant image. And thank you for your encouragement.

    Phyllis S– (Welcome!) I agree completely– if this life was all we had, how would we bear the thought of our loved ones just disappearing into nothingness?

    teegees–That was such a beautiful compliment. Thank you.

    auburn– I KNOW JUST WHAT YOU MEAN! We have had car-packing episodes that looked just like that!

    rockin’ robyn– Bless your friend’s sweet heart. I always think it must be especially difficult to lose someone on a holiday or special occasion.

    The Gospel Station– (Welcome!) Way to go Madi for sending you this way! I’m so glad you have ‘driveway memories’, too.

    Thanks, to all of you guys.

  12. Letting go, someday

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  13. gracelynn

    WOW! That was incredible Tori. Even though my parents and I have not had the best relationship in the world, I am still blessed to have my mom and dad and even more blessed that they are still married to one another and happy. I know what it means to have to call one of them and tell them I arrived. I only went off for an hour today to buy school supplies but as soon as my car pulled into the town of Greenville NC I called and told Dad, “I’m here” and he replied with his usual “OK…be careful. Call if you need us.” And before I left, I called and said, “I’m on the way home – should be there in about an hour.” Mom just said, “OK. I’ve got dinner started and should be done when you get here.” That’s her hint that I don’t need to stop at a fast food restaurant and get something before I return to this house. So despite our differences, I do know I’m blessed to have two parents that care whether or not I actually do make it home. My parents are trying hard to make up for the scars inflicted earlier as a teen and I am thankful. But regardless, we are human and still have our off days. LOL

    Losing my aunt is going to be very rough on me because she has always been the mother that I never had in my own. I dread the day I get the call from my cousin (“Sis”) telling me she is gone. Even though I know she’ll be in heaven with my other loved ones, the letting go is going to be very, very rough. And it will be just as rough with my parents as well. I can still my grandmother standing on her porch, waving bye to us as we drove off. It’s never easy to say that last goodbye on this earth. But at least we have the assurance that that goodbye isn’t final and that one day we’ll see them again and never have to face saying goodbye anymore.

  14. BrownEyedGirl

    Wow, thanks for writing that Tori. What an amazing and moving entry. It’s been an emotional week and this just brought tears to my eyes
    ( so unlike me)

    I treasure each visit with my parents. My husband and I spent so many years missing every other holiday so the kids would have some memories at our house. Now , as my Dad turns 70, and the wonder of Christmas shifts from things underneath the tree to the kids embracing the real meaning of Christmas, I don’t want to miss one holiday with my parents or in-laws.

    Thank you so much ( hugs going out to you)


  15. Barbara M. Lloyd

    I remember standing at my dad’s casket, tears flooding down my cheeks, and thinking that if I didn’t know where he was, I could not bear it. Then I heard a man sobbing behind me. I turned to see our pastor of many years, so broken at losing his close friend and fishing buddy.
    No matter how well we know that marvelous truth of aa loved one being instantly with Jesus, the pain of separation is uncontrollable….because we will miss them terribly. And in my case, where it was dad first, mother second, and then my Jimmy….life is never completely the same without them, but God wraps us in His big, old wonderful arms and eases that pain each day that we go on.
    I heard a woman say one time that she was glad her husband went first because she would never have wanted him to feel the pain of being left behind.
    After I had lost mother, I remember the sadness I felt in being an orphan. I still remember and long for all of those times my parents waved goodbye to us, as we left for many years with all of the left-overs from the days we were there. However, in those early years, my mother would laugh and say how she loved to see us come and loved to see us go. Mother’s house was full of antiques, so when we were coming she and dad would wrap everything that could be touched, pack it in peach baskets and take it down into the cellar for safe keeping. It wasn’t until those later years that the tears would start as we were leaving….no dry eyes inside or outside the car. Oh my, can it have been so many years ago?
    Tori, sweet Tori, you make us laugh with all of your antics…or stories about your precious daughters and husband….and then there those times, like now, when you touch our heartsand, in some cases, take us down memory lane in such a special way.
    Thanks for the memories….dear heart.

  16. Barbara M. Lloyd

    I received the following in my mail today and thought it a happy message for this blog.

    (Taken from papers written by a class of 8-year-olds)

    Grandparents are a lady and a man who have no little children of their own. They like other people’s.

    A grandfather is a man & a grandmother is a lady!

    Grandparents don’t have to do anything except be there when we come to see them. They are so old they shouldn’t play hard or run. It is good if they drive us to the shops and give us money.

    When they take us for walks, they slow down past things like pretty leaves and caterpillars.

    They show us and talk to us about the colors of the flowers and also why we shouldn’t step on ‘cracks.’

    They don ‘t say, ‘Hurry up.’

    Usually grandmothers are fat but not too fat to tie your shoes.

    They wear glasses and funny underwear.

    They can take their teeth and gums out.

    Grandparents don’t have to be smart.

    They have to answer questions like ‘Why isn’t God married?’ and ‘How come dogs chase cats?’

    When they read to us, they don’t skip. They don’t mind if we ask for the same story over again.

    Everybody should try to have a grandmother, especially if you don’t have television because they are the only grownups who like to spend time with us.

    They know we should have sn ack time before

    bed time and they say prayers with us and kiss us even when we’ve acted bad. ;



    It’s funny when they bend over, you hear gas leaks and they blame their dog.’

  17. dijea

    That was a wonderful post. I just spent the last 5 days with my parents and my two boys. I did the same exact thing. I think I got a little teary eyed.

    I don’t want to think about losing my parents either, my dad has diabetes and heart disease and isn’t in the best of health, although a little more than a decade younger than yours.

  18. rockin robyn

    Tori, I hope you don’t mind but I copied your post – clipped it to a card I put in the mail for my friend to read… I know she won’t be able to read it now (to emotional…) but in time! – it is a very beautiful “reading” and I now she will take from it memories of when she was leaving from visiting her mom almost two hours away… I’ve been with her when her husband and her were loading up the car to head home and her mom would pull me aside and say “Robyn it’s so lonely when you all leave at the same time”… Her mom lived alone and a whole bunch of us would crash at her house and attend the Bloomsburg Fair in PA … Those were great times!!!

  19. tori

    That honors me, rockin robyn– thank you.

  20. themema

    ((((((((((((Tori))))))))))) The thinking about the loss is almost as hard as the loss itself. There is that feeling of dread and fear of the day that call come, just has you have so eloquently expressed.

    My Dad died in 1962. I have missed him every day since then. At 22, I was just beginning to appreciate him again after my know it all years. But the older I become, the more I realize the value to a female of knowing that her Dad loved her and had quality time for her. I have so many friends who did not have that kind of Dad and and realize that is it is a piece of their life that could never be filled.

    For years, I have controlled my adult children with a threat….. “If you are not good, I’ll go first and leave you with your Dad to care for.” Works like a charm to get any thing or any behavior I want from them….

  21. belinda

    I read this earlier in the week and have thought about it a lot. I know I need to go home for a visit and maybe this is the push that I need to get that trip planned.

    I have been married for 29 years and live in Oklahoma and my parents, actually all of my immediate family are in New Mexico. How I wish that we were closer in miles so we could see each other a lot more. You would think that the longer you say good bye, the easier that it would get, but it does not. I think this post puts it all into perspective as to why the good bye’s are still so hard. It is the unknowning. We did not think about “the last time” when we were younger, you just expected to have more. Now, you thank God for EVERY time you get to go spend time with them. Each and every visit becomes so much more special and you are thnakful for all the little things. I can feel my Mom and Dad’s arms around me as they hug me each and every time before we leave and feel the love and know that they are praying for a safe trip and waiting by the phone to hear that we have made it. I know without a doubt that they still pray for all of us on a daily basis and always will. The heritage they have given us is something that money cannot buy. Thanks Tori for such a great blog. Our parents are a gift from God and we are all so blessed!

  22. Phyllis

    My word Tori, you have managed to put in print so many emotions that go through all of our hearts and minds I think. Girl, you do have a way with words. This post brought back soooooooo many memories as I am sure it has for many. Both of my parents are gone now and even though I am 48 years old there are times I feel like and orphan. LOL I have always said that life is about finding new normals. The most difficult “new normal” I have had to find is the one after both of my parents were gone. I still find myself thinking I need to rush home from work and check on them. Or when I hear a siren I still sometimes think for a split second I need to call and check on them. It is a strange adjustment to make for sure.

  23. Ben Jones

    Hello everyone,
    I was never close to my Father because he left when I was 3 and left my mom alone to raise 4 children on a secretaries salary. It’s o.k. because I believe in the sovereignty of God. I know that nothing can happen to me that He doesn’t either allow or cause to happen. My last view was my Mother pulling away after coming to visit at our Southern Sierra Nevada home and only seeing her next on her death bed. Two weeks after she visited, we found out she had ovarian cancer and died a week later. Her services were such an awesome praise service because as a Christian she went from the land of the dead to the land of the living. The peace from God knowing that she is enjoying the best for eternity is amazingly overwhelming at times. Almost in a way that feels strange because human nature want’s to grieve and we should, but it is ever so brief and the rejoycing is so great. I am pretty sure my father is not where my mother is. When he died on our family farm in Evansville, nobody knew. Keep them close. Love them lots. I Praise God for you and your parents. Keep up the good work in raising your own. You and Russ are leaving a great legacy for your children. My wife and I are striving for the same for our 8 children with # 9 on the way.
    Ben Jones

    P.S. How many of you just gasped!!!

  24. tori

    THANK YOU, Gracelynn, BrownEyedGirl, Momma Lloyd (LOVED the “What is a Grandparent?” email!), rockin’ robin, dijea, themema, belinda and sweet Phyllis. You guys sure now how to encourage a girl! I mean it!

    Uh, Ben– you aren’t related to the Penrods by any chance, are you?! And yes, I did gasp!
    Good for you and your wife– I admire you.

  25. kwr221

    Hi – I came here by way of Suburban Turmoil. I’ve now been finger-printed and passed the background check, so here I am. :-)

    This post really struck home – I could have written it, except I’m not nearly a talented a writer as you, and those days are done for me. I got those phone calls, and it felt like it was way too early. My Mom died 3 years ago at 68 after complications from an extended hospital stay, and my Dad died last year at75 of a heart attack on his way home to PA from a visit up here. Yup, it was one of those calls.

    Savor those bittersweet moments of good byes and reunions.

    I look forward to reading more.

  26. karen48

    This post really got too me especially after losing a family member last week. He was only 24 years old.
    My dad passed away in 1957 at the age of 48. I was 8 years old. My mom passes away when she wa 72, 16 years ago. I miss them both. I miss not having a daddy growing up. I was always jealous of people who had dads. I still miss that and wish I could have had a daddy growing up.
    My mom raised 6 kids by herself. She never remarried. Sometimes Mom would drive me nuts. lol As I’m sure I do my kids. But she was still Mom. I find myself thinking of them and talking to them. Telling them I’m sorry for things. Wishing they could be here to see how we all turned out and all their grandkids and great grandkids.
    Right now, I have one aunt left. She was my Mom’s stepsister. Once she is gone, my generation will be the oldest one.
    I miss my grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles. They have all gone home and I hope to see them again someday.
    Tori, you are so fortunate to have your parents still there for you. Even though we know that they will be called home someday, and will be in a far better place, we are still going to miss their physical presence. But their spirit will live in our hearts forever. I believe they are still around us, watching over us and listening when we want to talk to them.


  27. juliantimm

    While I was reading this, my dad came in and said, “She has really captured how we all feel,” and he’s right. I know I feel the same way about the Grampops. I also feel this way about my parents, although saying that they’re living on borrowed time might be a bit of a stretch…Anywho, I just wanted to share that with you.

  28. tori

    Julian? Everybody.
    Everybody? Julian.
    (He rocks. And he’s an actor/comedian/all around cool guy. And he lives in L.A. and he has survived being raised by my craziest brother, Joel. Whom I love. Not to mention Kri, his astounding, multi-faceted, sweeter than a bunny mother. He also has great hair and Madi would date him if they weren’t related. The end. Come back soon, Julian.)

  29. auburn60

    Nice to meet you, Julian.
    So… how old are you?
    See, I have a daughter (two of them actually) and on her list of ‘Things to look for in a Perfect Man) is ‘great hair’.

  30. Phyllis

    Hey, just wanted to say how cool is it that Julian posted to his aunts blog. That is special. Glad he stopped by. :)

  31. drmani

    I won’t ever look in my rear-view mirror again without remembering this post, tori!

    All success

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