The Way I Remember Him

A year ago today I was heading home to Arkansas, because my Dad was dying.

I had the girls with me; Russ had concerts that weekend, but he was going to join us as quickly as possible. I had mixed feelings about bringing the girls, because none of us had ever done this before and I didn’t know if witnessing the deathwatch of their beloved grandfather would bring comforting closure or be a traumatizing mistake. Madi Rose pretty much took the decision out of my hands– “Of course we’re going,” she told me firmly. “It’s Papa.”

The hospital bed had already been moved into my parent’s bedroom, though Mama had strenuously objected at first. It’s so final and symbolic, that sterile-looking mechanical bed with the formidable iron railings on the side. We knew it meant the beginning of the end for Daddy, but we also knew that in the not-so-secret recesses of Mama’s stubborn little heart, she was still thinking that if she could just get some solid food in him and get him up and moving… Regardless of how many times the hospice nurse (and every dang one of her children) had patiently (and impatiently) explained to her that Daddy was losing his ability to swallow which made eating unpleasant and choking a very real possibility, and assured her that he wasn’t experiencing any sense of hunger because his system was shutting down (blah di blah blah/white noise)– I can’t tell you the number of times that week we would literally catch her in the act of sneaking back to the bedroom with a small dish of applesauce and a determined look on her face. If love and sheer force of will could keep a person alive, Daddy would sitting at their big round oak table right this minute, drinking his morning coffee and reading the Benton Courier.

I had left Daddy’s bedside the Tuesday before, in order to return to Nashville and tape the Homecoming Radio show. I knew the guys would completely understand if I cancelled, but we tape six months worth of shows at a time, and they were already scripted and ready to go. And to be completely honest, I just wasn’t sure that I had a deep need to actually be standing in the room with my father when he drew his last breath. One of the greatest gifts Dad ever gave me is the fact that our relationship was so completely uncomplicated and pure– we were secure in our love for each other, there was no unfinished business, no need for forgiveness to be asked for or given. I didn’t want him to go, but I knew I could release him into the arms of the God he believed in his entire life without regret, whether I was there at the moment it happened or not.

So I made peace with my decision to leave, and I felt strongly that things would unfold the way they were supposed to– if Daddy passed while I was gone, I would accept that, and if I made it back in time to be there, then I would know that was the way it should happen. When I said goodbye to Daddy, he was still aware of things and able to talk little bit. I put on a cheerful face and explained I was going to run home to Nashville for a couple of days to tape the radio show, and then I’d be right back. I told him I’d say hello to Bill for him, and he smiled and nodded. I held his hand and kissed him and said, “I promise I’ll be back on Friday. Don’t skip town or anything, OK?” Another smile. And then I left.

The next couple of days were a whirlwind of activity. The long drive, the Homecoming Radio tapings, and the preparations to leave again were all accompanied by a constant stream of phone calls and Facebook messages checking in on Daddy’s condition. In the meantime, my brother Matt and his wife had arrived in Arkansas, as well as my brother Joel and his family. Daddy was losing a little bit of ground every day, they reported, but was not in any pain. And then it was Friday, so the girls and I packed up and headed home.

What happened next is one of the most treasured memories of my entire life, and though I was completely unaware of it at the time my brother-in-law David actually captured it on film. When I finally saw this photo, I almost shared with all of you here, but it just felt too private and I felt too raw. Now, a year later, this image still makes tears spring to my eyes when I look at it, but recalling the unbearable sweetness of that moment makes me smile, too. And I’m ready for you to see it.

I walked into the house, dropped my bags in the hall and went straight to Daddy’s bedroom. He was resting, but opened his eyes when he heard my voice. His face, almost as familiar to me as my own, looked ancient and pale– until he saw me. He broke into a wide smile of delight, and said my name. “I TOLD you I’d come back,” I said. He reached up a wavering hand, and cupped my face. I kissed his fingers, and then we just stared at each other for a few minutes, grinning like possums, holding tight and not letting go. Within just a few hours, he was no longer able to speak and was drifting in and out of consciousness. He slipped away at around 4 a.m. Easter morning, with all six of his children and two of his grandchildren sleeping under his roof.

I miss you every day, Daddy.

(And Sunday morning the girls and I will eat a big ol’ chocolate bunny in your honor.)

14 Responses

  1. ChristinaCD


    Thank you for sharing such a tender moment with us. We’ll be praying for you as you remember your Dad this weekend.

  2. bettyrwoodward

    Thanks Tori! I was with my Dad when he passed over on December 9th 2005. It was a very special time as he went to be with his Lord. I wonder if they are talking together now.

  3. jonny

    Same here, thanks so much for sharing.

  4. Eldonna

    What a treasure! Both the love you and your Father shared and the visual proof of that love in this picture.
    Praying your memories bring you much comfort and joy.


  5. gracelynn

    So glad you were able to share this private moment with us, Tori. Love you and am praying for you through this year’s Easter season.

  6. mamabear

    Daddies are so precious! I was with mine when he left in ’98 and I still miss him.

    (((Tori))) for all the ‘firsts’ that will become ‘seconds’ and ‘thirds’… They get less hard but never easy. This will be my 14th Easter without my Daddy…

    Enjoy that bunny!!!

  7. Gramma Jac

    On this holiest of weekends, thanks for reminding us what is important–the love of our Savior and the love of our family and friends. (And maybe a chocolate bunny or two!)

  8. LindaB

    You’re a wonderful daughter, Tori Taff!! It’s no wonder you brought that big old smile to your daddy’s face! I know you were a joy to him…… were all his children and his sweet soul mate of so many years!

    And this Easter Sunday, I’m praising God for His Perfect Sacrifice of His Son on an old rugged bloodstained cross so that we don’t have to say a permanent goodby to our dad’s, and mom’s, and loved ones who have died in Him. Thank You, Jesus!

  9. LindaB

    And how sweet of your brother-in-law to think to capture this moment for you!

  10. blondie

    Every time I try to comment on this, I just get a big ol’ blank in my head. I’ve got no words, just tears. And then there’s all the Bloomr Nation comments. Precious. I feel honored to be allowed to read these words.

  11. jonny

    I have to echo what blondie wrote, except that I believe that what I wrote earlier is just so inadequate. When the feelings, thoughts of inadequacy came I remembered that your dad had actually inspired some lyrics I did over a year ago. Part of the reason I forgot was that other influences had come in affecting them after the initial flame he was responsible for igniting. Unfortunately I can’t remember which blog post it was that made me start wanting to have a big do-over with my life at the time, but it involved him in some way. Anyway, happy Easter and here they are —

    Yes I,
    I’d rather be you
    Well now I,
    I’d rather be you

    As lines diffuse
    Like aged tattoos
    And hands fall through
    A shadow, or two

    I’d rather be you
    Right now I,
    I just need to be new

    Said now I’
    I’d rather be you
    I know now I,
    I’d really like to be you

    As hills so green
    Bathe in Spring
    Or Kelly’s blue
    When love would seep true

    You know I,
    I’d rather be you
    Sometimes I,
    I just gotta be you

  12. Barbara M. Lloyd

    Precious Memories….and His promise for our tomorrows… truly blessed we are.

  13. soonergirl1064

    How wonderful it must have been to have a daddy who loved you like that, Tori, and oh, what a precious picture! Thank you so much for sharing this sweet story and picture! I lived in Benton for 15 years (1991-2006). Are you or your folks originally from Benton?

  14. tori

    soonergirl– I grew up in Little Rock, moved to Hot Springs in high school, married Russ there, and moved to Nashville. My parents moved to Benton a few years after that, and I also have two sisters there.

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