On March 24th, 2020, my phone dinged, letting me know I had a new alert from Facebook. I opened the app and glanced at the request with mild disinterest until I saw the name.
“Timothy Harmon has sent you a friend request.”
He wore a green and black sweater with a puffy Santa Claus face on the front. On anyone else, it would have looked hideous, but Dad looked just like the picture on his sweater, with a full white beard and a red Santa hat on his head. It suited him perfectly.
I remembered how he used to dress up as Santa every year at his workplace. He played the role so well.
My dad and I had never been close. Too much alike, spending too much time around my father all too often led to arguments. We would go weeks without speaking, but somehow those weeks had turned to years. I realized that I hadn’t spoken to him since our last one in 2009.
How had I let eleven years go by without contact? I wondered with dismay.
I tapped the confirm button, and a message popped up from him.
“Your sister Audrey is going in for surgery tomorrow. Prayers would be appreciated. She is having a stent removed from her ureter. Like Dad, like daughter. Please don’t you surprise me with any hospital visits.”
“Yes, definitely will be praying for her!!”
“Thank you. I heard about it just last night, and yes, Dad spazzed. The septicemia that put me in the hospital again came from a stent.”
This news upset me because I hadn’t known that he had been in the hospital. He assured me that he was recovered, which was a relief. We then chatted about how we both had to take thyroid medicine. He told me about his other medications and the unpleasant side effects. Through Facebook messages, phone calls, and video chats, we shared news about our lives.
Our renewed father-daughter relationship was better than ever.
“Good news, Dad! My husband Brad got vacation time approved, and we are going to come to New York for two weeks.”
“Wonderful! I can’t wait to see you!”
“We have been planning this; I delayed sending Dalton’s Christmas gifts so that I could give them to him in person.”
“How does it feel to be a grandma for the first time?”
“I love it, though I feel like I have to be the youngest grandma in history! LOL!”
“I just learned what LOL means,” Dad texted back. “I told your sister Audrey that I thought it meant little old ladies, and she laughed at me.”
“Don’t worry; you’ll get used to all this technology. How does it feel to be a great-grandfather?”
“I feel blessed...the men in my family don’t usually live long enough to be great-grandfathers.”
“How are you doing on the new medication?”
“I feel healthier than ever, here’s hoping I live long enough to see Dalton’s children born!”
“I’m sure you will. We will be in New York in a couple of weeks, can’t wait for everyone to meet Brad, and I’m looking forward to seeing everyone.”
Video Chat, April 2020
“I’m sorry about this, dad. I called and verified with the sheriff’s office in your county. They are quarantining everyone coming to New York from out of state. Between the pandemic and all the riots, this is a bad time to visit. We would be quarantined the whole time we were there and wouldn’t be able to visit anyway. I don’t want to take a chance, with your health and Dalton still being just a baby.”
“I understand. I’m grateful to your brother Ben’s wife, Heather, for teaching me how to use the internet. Thank God for video chats.”
June 2020, messages
“I found out why my health has been going downhill, despite all the medicine the doc has me on.”
“Sorry to hear that, Dad. You were doing good for a while. What’s happened?”
“I’ve been diagnosed with kidney cancer.”
“Oh God, dad. Will you be able to get a transplant? I will donate one of mine.”
“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”
December 2020, messages
“Miracles still happen, just like you said. The chemotherapy has been successful; I have even gotten some kidney function restored, though I still have to wear a bag. I was approved for the apartment in the assisted living center. I will still be independent, and I will be able to stop being a burden on your brother and his wife.”
“Dad! Ben and Heather don’t think of you as a burden! I’m so glad you were able to get into that place; Heather sent me some pictures, it looks nice.”
January 12, 2021, 10 am messages.
“Moving in day! Heather will drop me off; I won’t be able to message you until the technician turns on the internet, he will be here this afternoon. Talk to you soon!”
“I’m so happy for you, Dad. Call me as soon as you get internet!”
At 2 pm that day, I got out of the shower and saw I had a couple of missed calls from my sister Heather and a text message from her
“Please call me ASAP.”
“Hi Heather, I got your message.”
Silence on the other end.
“I don’t know how to say this, but….”
“I have been trying to brace myself; I knew when I saw your message that...Is he gone, Heather?”
‘Yes, I’m so sorry,” Heather said in a voice choked with tears she was struggling not to shed.
‘What happened?” I asked, fighting back my own tears.
“I don’t know yet; a police officer called me at 1:30 pm and told me his body had been found in his new apartment, around 1 pm.”
I couldn’t hold back my sobs, and I told her I would call her later.
Per Dad’s wishes, he was cremated and put in a silver urn. Heather sent me a picture of it on the mantle above her fireplace. On top of the urn was a bright red Santa hat.