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A Father’s Loving Comfort from Beyond Eased His Worries

A mysterious encounter gave him closure.

Kevin [left] with his father smiling; Photo credit: Kevin Emshoff

I lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, willing sleep to come. I hadn’t been able to drift off peacefully since my stepdad, Richard, passed away a month ago. I was full of grief and plagued with regret at not ever having told him how much he meant to me. Did he know how much I loved him? I wondered. Was I as much a son to him as he was a father to me?

Richard was the only dad I’d ever known. My biological father had abandoned Mom and me when I was very young. She struggled to support us on her own and took out a lot of her frustration on me. I was a lonely kid.

Then, when I was nine, Richard came along, and everything changed for the better. He and Mom were perfect together. Richard was a big, strong guy with a booming voice and huge hands that gave a crushing handshake. But he was the gentlest soul you’d ever meet. Richard acted as a buffer between Mom and me, calmly intervening to play peacekeeper. Our relationship improved with Richard around. The three of us were happy, and I didn’t feel so alone anymore. It felt like he had saved my life. I started calling him Dad before he and my mom even got married.

He seemed to fully embrace the role. On weekends, we’d work together on home improvement projects in the house we moved into in Fair Oaks, California. When I got my first real job working a paper route, Dad was the one who gave me rides in his car to the newspaper office so I wouldn’t have to bike there. He taught me to drive in that car. I was a latchkey kid, and Dad was the parent I called every day when I got home from school to let him know I was safe. I could always rely on him for fatherly advice and support.

As an adult, I chose to settle down nearby so I could visit Mom and Dad often. When they bought land to build a horse ranch, I helped Dad construct a fence and a barn.

One day, while we were working in the barn, Dad got a nosebleed that wouldn’t stop. When we took him to the hospital, they told us it was internal bleeding from the blood thinners he was on. It was only a matter of time. All we could do was make him comfortable.

I sat alone in the hospital room with him that day, while Mom went home to pick up a few things. It was hard to register that something was taking down my larger-than-life dad. He was conscious, and we spent time talking about normal things —the barn, the horses, his truck. There was so much I wanted to say, so much I wanted to hear from him in return. But Dad and I were both men of action rather than words. It was hard for us to be open with our emotions. So I left the conversation at the surface level. It was the last time we ever spoke. Dad became unresponsive and died a few days later.

Now I turned over in bed, angry at myself. Why hadn’t I just said what I needed to say when I had the chance?

Suddenly, the air shifted, as if someone had opened a door. I felt a presence enter the room. My eyes darted to the corner. I sat straight up in bed, heart pounding. There was a man standing there! He wore black cowboy boots, a black cowboy hat, blue jeans and a white T-shirt with a pack of cigarettes rolled into the sleeve. I was about to yell when the man lifted his head to reveal his face. Dad? I was certain of it. But he looked much younger than he’d been when I met him. And why was he dressed like that? I had no idea what was happening, but I knew I didn’t need to be afraid.

Dad walked over to me and sat down on the edge of the bed. I swept him into a hug. His broad shoulders were solid in my arms, and I could smell his Brut aftershave. I just let go. I cried on his shoulder, and he let me grieve. “I’m so sorry I didn’t tell you I love you, Dad.” Without words, he assured me that there was no need to be sorry. He knew.

I pulled back from the hug. Dad’s solid form began to shimmer, dissipating into a soft white mist that moved forward, passing through me and enveloping me in profound calmness. Images appeared before my eyes, one by one, like a rapidly moving slideshow. It was as if I were moving standing right beside Dad in every scene—an old car, an apple orchard, two boys digging a trench around a tent in the rain, a wood mill. I was seeing Dad’s life flash before my eyes. He wanted to share with me all the parts before I knew him. I waited for some explanation for the way he was dressed, but one never came.

The images disappeared, and Dad was once again a solid figure sitting on the edge of my bed. I didn’t want him to leave.

Dad’s large hands cupped my face. He looked me straight in the eyes. “I’m okay,” he said in a soft voice. And then, he was gone. Everything around me was normal and silent. I was sitting up in bed with my arms outstretched. For the first time since Dad’s passing, I felt a heavenly peace, and finally I could sleep. Dad knew how much he meant to me. Ever a man of action, he showed me how much he loved me too.

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