It’s been a few years now since my father passed away at the end of a long illness. It was December, and as you can imagine, not the happiest of holiday seasons. And so we began to do all those things you have to do. Like go through drawers and documents and transfer the title of the car– in his case a Buick. (My dad always joked that the average age of a Buick owner is “deceased”– and I confess, I did get a little kick out of that for the few weeks when it was actually true.)
Our kids tried on and shared his Mad Men-esque sixties hats, ties and sweaters. We looked through old pictures and cards and relived happy memories. My sisters made that dreaded trip to the safe deposit box– the one you put off because it feels so final and official and business like. And then they came across something totally mysterious and unexpected: an envelope which read “TO BE OPENED UPON MY DEATH. MIW”
I think it’s safe to say my sisters were a little freaked out. You have to understand that when it came to preparing for the end of life, my dad took care of things. He was VERY organized. We knew where everything was. He went over all kind of details. And he went over them MORE THAN ONCE. He was not the type to surprise us.
This envelope made no sense. It seemed so out of character. My sisters called to make sure it was ok with me if they opened it even though I wasn’t there. “Of course,” I said. And then my mind began to race.
What was inside?
A family secret?
What would and could my father be hiding from us?
My heart pounded.
My imagination went into overdrive.
But none of us ever would have guessed what he left as a final message.
In 72 font perfectly centered on the page, he had typed out the word
To the right, he drew a smiley face with a halo over it, with the words, “I love you all.”
In case you missed it, (which you may not want to admit in public) “Rosebud” is the last word mumbled by Charles Foster Kane on his deathbed, in “Citizen Kane.” The 119 minute movie (which many people think feels more like 219 minutes) is a flashback, spent trying to figure out the meaning of Rosebud. It’s an iconic symbol and enigma in what many consider to be the best movie of all time…. people like my mom.
But then there are people like my dad and me who found it to be very long and very boring– people who kind of, dare I say, hated that movie. But the thing is, my dad loved my mom.
And so in that first dark holiday season without him, my father had imagined and engineered a way to make us all — especially her– laugh and cry and feel loved. It was a beautiful gift.
Now that our mom has died, my sisters and I are sharing the letter. It moves from one house to the other each December. My dad’s short and sweet version of Rosebud will be mine next year.