Katherine held her dying father’s hand, determined not to cry. His death was close, but neither of them wanted what little time he had left to be marred by tears and sadness. There would be plenty of time for that. After. Katherine treasured every minute with her father, particularly when her mother wasn’t bustling about around them.
“Promise me, Katherine.” Her father’s feeble grip tightened on her hand and he struggled to prop himself up on one elbow, a sharp intake of breath hissing through gritted teeth. Lines of pain deepened around his mouth and eyes. “Don’t listen to your mother, she never understood. Don’t let her talk you out of it. You have to promise me.” His voice, while quiet and edged with pain, had an urgent quality to it. A tone that commanded her attention. And her compliance.
A burning lump formed in Katherine’s throat giving a strangled, tormented croak to her voice. “I promise, Dad.” She quickly brushed away the single tear sliding down her cheek. Hold it together, Katherine.
Her father flopped back in his bed with a groan of pain. He nodded. “That’s good then.” A faint smile formed on his face and he closed his eyes.
Katherine squeezed his hand gently. His hands had once been strong but were now thin and bony. His once bright eyes now dull and yellowed, his once clear voice now faint and breathy. He looked so frail, so old. But he wasn’t old. He was only 68, but cancer had ravaged his body, making him look twenty years older.
His eyes opened again and he smiled and winked at her. For a moment it was as if the years fell away and he was again the father who had picked her up and carried her on his shoulders when she was a little girl. The father who had laughed with her, encouraged her, taught her. The father who had comforted her when she was sad. Her rock. Her idol. She smiled back at him and leaned over, kissing him gently on the cheek.
“I love you Dad,” she whispered. The dam was close to breaking, so she swallowed hard and sat back in her chair, again just holding his hand.
His eyes slowly closed again and his labored breathing evened to a more regular rhythm. For now, he slept.
Katherine picked up a notepad from the side table and scribbled a quick note below the logo for the Royal Cornwall Hospital, Truro.
I mean it.
All my love, always,
Three weeks later – Spring
Katherine placed a yellow rose on her father’s grave, its single spot of brightness in sharp contrast to the red-brown earth that marked his final resting place.
Her sorrow overwhelmed her, her heart aching as though it had shattered into a thousand shards, each one relentlessly stabbing inside her chest. Her throat throbbed, swollen and raw, every scalding breath like acid.
How was she going to get through this? The man who had loved her, supported, encouraged her, was gone. How could she face life without him?
Fresh tears blurred her vision; the single yellow rose kaleidoscoping into a bouquet.
“I miss you so much, Dad.”
Katherine crouched and kissed her fingertips then placed them on the grave letting them linger as if touching her father’s forehead. She remained a few moments, head bowed, tears falling on the grave, each one soaking into the earth as quickly as it was shed.
Finally, with a deep, rasping sigh, she stood and wiped her eyes. “I love you Dad,” she whispered, then turned and walked away.
As she closed the cemetery gate behind her, she glanced at her watch. She’d arranged to meet her mother to choose a headstone and she mustn’t be late. Once that was done, she would head back to her tiny flat in Tavistock and try to rebuild her life.
And, of course, keep the promise she’d made to her father.