My Father’s Last Birthday – Personal Essay

When you lose someone you love, or know you soon will, the most peculiar things bring tears to your eyes.

A few weeks ago I stood behind a man in an elevator and watched him reach into his pocket to pull out a tube of Chapstick. He’d peeled the wrapper off the tube. The inside was pink, and when he put it on I could tell it was cherry flavored by the scent. My father always carried around cherry Chapstick just like that, with the wrapper torn off. The rim of it stayed a little dirty from being mixed in his pocket with loose change and things he’d dug up while metal detecting – or “prospecting,” as he called it. I bit my lip to try and keep from crying until the man got off.

This morning when I got up and wandered into the bathroom, the first thing I saw was this shaving brush – just like the one that sat near my dad’s sink in the bathroom at my parents’ house for twenty years. I started crying again.

brushToday my father turned 72. This will be his last birthday. Earlier this year he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor and life has been a struggle since. He’s been in a hospice care center back home for months. My mother never leaves his side.

It’s difficult, and I’m not sure anyone can understand what it’s like unless you’ve gone through it. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever known. Days and weeks are filled with sharp ups and downs, and the strangest things can make me cry. I catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror and see his face, and know he’s a part of me, and that a part of me is slowly dying in a small, white room in Tupelo, MS, while I live my days doing the only thing I know to do, the best that I can do. Try and make him proud – at least I can do that.

My father was an amazing man. His mind has faded now, but the things he taught me never will. I am who I am because of him, and it’s hard to imagine a better father.

If your dad is still here, please don’t take him for granted – nor all the memories, or the things that seemed like they’d always be there, like the comfort of home, and the unconditional sort of love that family provides.


My father, Johnny Mac Brown, passed away on October 6, 2015 at 8:27pm Central Time. He took his last breath while surrounded by family and the love he inspired in us all.