Short Story: “Tell Her I Was Kind”

A father with a terminal illness has the chance to spare his young daughter from the pain of his death by erasing her memories of the times they’ve spent together.
Indian little girl

Indian little girl sitting on her fathers shoulders © Mila Supinskaya Glashchenko /

October 01, 2023 06:43 EDT

Something to consider when reading/listening: How far would you go to save someone you love from grief? 

“Whatever you choose,” says the consultant, “will be the best decision. There’s no right or wrong option here. It’s not my place to tell you what’s best for your daughter.”

Tariq grips Cara’s hand. They’ve spoken about this hundreds of times and have always come to the same conclusion. But if they were to think the opposite just once, what would that mean? Would it be enough to drop the idea altogether?

Cara has tried to work out what her dad would’ve done if in Tariq’s position. But the only thing she truly remembers about her dad is the pain of his death. She can remember the feeling, the taste, the air being sucked out of her lungs.

“And to be clear,” says Cara, “there’s no chance she’ll ever know. The memories aren’t repressed or hidden or…”

“They’re gone,” says the consultant, “gone forever.”

Cara turns to her husband. “And you’re sure you want to do this?”

Tariq addresses the consultant, but really he’s speaking to himself. “I never knew my dad,” he says. “And it was tough, sure, but there was no one to grieve. I don’t carry around the sense of loss that Cara does.” He tries to smile at her. “There’s that cliche, isn’t there? Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. Yeah, I’m not so sure.” Cara grips his hand.

“Either way,” says Tariq, “I’m not gonna be there to see my little girl grow up, am I? I’m not gonna carry the memories because they’ll all die with me. So, look, who doesn’t wanna be remembered? But Selina is six years old. Most of her memories of me, they… they aren’t gonna last anyway. So if I can prevent her from feeling the pain of my death. If I can stop her from carrying around that grief for the rest of her life… Well, what sort of dad would I be if I didn’t choose to…” He trails off, unable to finish the sentence.

“I’ll leave you two alone for a few minutes,” says the consultant.

Once she’s gone, Cara bursts into tears. She and Tariq wrap their arms around each other. “You’re so unbearably brave,” she says.

“It’s the right thing to do,” says Tariq, “I know it is.”

“But all the great times you’ve had with her. The bike rides. Reading her stories every night before bed. The week-long game of hide and seek. The day when you spoke exclusively in rhyme. It’ll be like none of it ever happened.”

“How much of that would stay with her anyway?” says Tariq. “As a fire becomes an ember, she would hardly remember.”

He takes off his jumper and hands it to Cara, who uses the sleeve to wipe her tears. She pauses to take in the smell of him.

“I don’t know if I’ll be able to lie to her,” says Cara. “Because that’s what it’ll be, won’t it?”

Tariq wipes his own tears with his fingers. “There is a way round that.”

Cara stares at him. “No, you’re not serious? That is… that would be… no way… you want me to… you’re not…”

“You already carry the loss of your dad. Are you sure you want to carry the loss of your husband too?”

He touches her arm and Cara recoils. She stands up. “Don’t you dare, don’t you dare.”

“I’m sorry,” he says, “I’m only thinking out loud. Look, from my point of view it doesn’t matter. Once I’m gone, there is no such thing as my point of view. Even if everyone in the world remembered every moment of my life, it wouldn’t matter. These lives of ours are leaseholds. Mine ceases to be mine the moment I die.”

“You lived, Tariq. You lived. There is no way I would throw away everything we have.”

“It was Selina who brought us together, right? One random night, and if we hadn’t got pregnant, we might never have even seen each other again.”

Cara sits back down and puts both of her hands on his face. “We haven’t built a life together simply for her. I love you. I love you so much. And I would rather take all the pain than lose the memories.”

“Ok,” he says, “I’m sorry.”

When the consultant returns, Cara asks for some clarity. “So she’ll forget every memory relating to her dad?”

“Correct. She’ll believe he passed when she was still in the womb.”

“But what will be in their place?”


“And won’t this create confusion? Won’t she have a sense of something missing?”

The consultant smiles and shakes her head. “No. There are some who think the memories we remove are in there somewhere, buried deep. Others, and this is the vast majority of us, think they’re gone altogether. But either way, in a normal life, we only ever recall a tiny percentage of the things that happen to us. The rest of it, to all intents and purposes, fades into nothing. And our brains are very good at dealing with nothing.”

Tariq squeezes Cara’s hand. She looks at him, this man she loves, this man she’s not sure she can live without. He nods.

“Ok,” says Cara, “Ok.”

The consultant smiles. “We’ll put everything in place, and whenever the time is right, you just give us a call and bring her in.”

On their way out, Cara asks Tariq what he’d like her to say to their daughter when she asks about him.

“No facts,” says Tariq. “Just tell her I was kind.”

Years later, Cara sits in the audience as her daughter delivers the graduation speech in front of her classmates and their families. She’s got the best grades in the whole year. She’s got a place at one of the best universities. She’s got loads of friends. And she’s happy. She’s so happy.

When they meet afterwards, Cara squeezes her tight. She tells her she’s never been prouder. And she says, “Your dad would be so proud too.”

“Dad?” says Selina, “Why would you talk about dad?”

Cara thinks about this for a moment. Why did she just say that? Cara had never known Selina’s dad. She can picture his smile, but maybe that was just an invention. He’d made her laugh. He’d seemed kind. But he’d died in a car accident a few weeks after Selina was conceived. Apart from that one night, Cara never even spoke to him.

Cara smiles, looks at her daughter, and says, “I have absolutely no idea.”

[Doe Wilmann first released this piece on his short story podcast, Meaningless Problems.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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