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When he was halfway done, my father handed me the plate.

"Do you want some?" he asked.

"There's more in the kitchen," my mother said. "She can have it later. This is for you."

"Let her have some," he insisted.

I reached over and took the plate. Using my father's spoon, I piled a mound of rice into my mouth. It was plain but flavorful, delicious. I suspected that my mother might have slipped in some broth or margarine, even a few drops of coconut milk, but I couldn't be sure.

Handing the rest of the rice back to my father, I said, "Thank you, Papa."

Three days later, my father was dead. In the interim, he'd stopped eating altogether.

I will always be grateful I shared that plate of rice with my father because for nearly a year my mother, my brothers, and I had constantly brought him food yet had rarely eaten with him. Somehow it hadn't occurred to us that he missed sharing a table or a dish, passing a spice or a spoon. But he did.

Three weeks before he died, my parents had their 40th wedding anniversary. My brothers and I invited a few friends over, even though my father was too weak to leave his bed. Still, as we all gathered around, he seemed relieved for once to be at the center of an occasion that did not involve his illness. The simple act of rejoicing, our honoring the day he and my mother were married, he said, allowed him to momentarily concentrate on life rather than death. And even the simplest life, like the simplest meal, is cause for celebration.

Get Edwidge Danticat's family recipe for Diri Blan (white rice)

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