My Father passed away in January of 2008 after a long struggle with respiratory issues which stemmed from years of smoking. He smoked when my sister and I were kids even when we begged him not to as we rode in the backseat of the car going on family vacations. He smoked when my Grandmother was in the hospital dying of breast cancer, from smoking. He smoked when he got up in the morning, when he cut the grass, after he ate dinner at night. It was hard to picture him at a time when he didn’t have a cigarette in his hand, up to his mouth or just lighting up another one – even though he had yet to finish the last.
My Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1982. We were on a family vacation to Ireland and England when he first got sick. Five years later, and after a quarter of his right lung had been removed, my Dad was declared cancer free. But, the years of smoking had taken it’s toll and would linger with him and cause many medical problems for the rest of his life.
The months after my Father passed were some of the most difficult of my life. Not only had my Father died, I had left a job I’d had for a dozen years, I had recently gotten divorced, and two of my beloved golden retrievers had died. Like most things in my life, when things get tough, I jump in and fight.
I needed a project — something to keep me busy. I think better when I’m busy. Buying and renovating my home with my fiancé was probably what kept me sane during those difficult months after my Father’s death. After six months of work, we finally were able to move in and planned to invite both families to celebrate Christmas day in our new home.
I knew the first Christmas without my Dad would be tough. But, I didn’t really know exactly how I would feel or what would happen. All I knew was I was that fifteen people were coming for dinner and I was cooking.
Thoughts ran through my head. Christmas Day. A home my Father never lived to see. The hours of labor I had put into it with him looking down on me were over. Now it was time to celebrate the holiday, with my family. In the back of my head I kept expecting to see him, for him to just show up, to tell me Merry Christmas, and to say what a great job we did with the house. But, at the same time, I knew different.
As we opened the presents, my Mother handed me a box. Just something for the tree, she said. I unwrapped and opened the box and felt the tears start burning down my face. My fiancé had been in the other room. Walking in, he was startled to see me so upset standing in front of the tree with my Mother. What’s wrong? All I could do was to hand him the box. Inside was an ornament with the words: Dad, January 13, 1928 – January 3, 2008.
My Mom had found a poem and had carefully typed out part of it on a small card and enclosed it with the holiday ornament. The card read: Have a Merry Christmas and Wipe away that tear…Remember, I am spending Christmas with Jesus Christ this year.