A slow creak breaks the silence in the house as I climb up the narrow, wooden stairs to my parents’ attic. The heavy door to the attic lays overhead, and it opens to so many memories. As I push it open and hook the string around the handle, I feel the humid air immediately plaster onto my face. I begin searching for some clothes I want to donate and other boxes I want to move to my future home with my fiancé.

The previous week, in the silence of my car, radio off, all I could picture as I thought about how desperately I miss my dad’s voice, was a small shoe box I wasn’t sure I even still owned. I had designated this box as special, and I used it for all my cards and letters from family. I do not even remember what shoes came inside, but the box was white with multi-colored polk-a-dots, a pink handle and pink clasps that snapped shut. As I sorted through my boxes in the attic, I hadn’t expected to find the shoe box, but there it was. The memories immediately washed over me like a tidal wave.

As Huntington’s Disease has progressed in my father’s body, I increasingly long to know what is still in his mind. I   often find myself thinking how much I miss the man I grew up with. Those words are the hardest to think, let alone to admit and type. Where is the man I grew up with, the man who sang along to every oldies song as we cruised around in his old red Thunderbird. Though his inhibitions have changed and his outward body doesn’t work the way he wants it to, I know so much more is going on than he can express. I can just feel it so deeply.

I see this whenever he sees my uncle Mark, his brother who was the first diagnosed with HD. Every time my dad sees Mark, he makes a b-line to greet him. The affiliation was especially noticeable to me at my cousin’s wedding last month. It is in those moments I know my Dad is and always will be my Dad. He is there. He needs to be understood. And though I miss the laughter and the smile that used to be so often on his face, that man still exists in a very real way.

I saw a glimpse of that also as we listened to Blues Brothers music and other oldies with another Uncle and Aunt and my mom. I saw my dad laugh and smile for the first time in an extremely long time. And I was thankful.

And then there are these letters, letters from 1993 and 1994, when I was just seven and eight years old. These letters he wrote on his work trips, especially to Texas, and one from a boy scout camp. His written words meant so much to me then, but I never knew how much I would appreciate them now. I would never imagine how desperate a daughter could be for her father’s words and to know who he is inside. Not past tense, still is. And who he ALWAYS will be, because the lessons he taught me are there at all times.

The words from one letter really brought that home to me:

Please keep me in your prayers and I will keep praying for you.

He meant those words so sincerely.

Dad, I have and will always pray for you. You not only were my hero growing up, you still are. You have always been such a quiet-spoken man. Until now, though, I never knew the strength of your words. Thank you. Then. Now. Always. I love you. Every day is Father’s Day to me, because you are always in my heart. The letters you once wrote that little girl are still the words I cling to because I will always have those moments. I will have your written words in my heart even when your hand fails to allow you to write.