This Christmas will be nine years that I have been without my father. He passed away on a Saturday, in spring, when new flowers were starting to bloom. I remember the day as though it were only yesterday. I can still feel the warmth of the sun on my face, smell the sweet aroma of potting soil, and the perfume of an assortment of blossoms that had not yet made it to the flower bed in my father’s front yard.
My father loved nature, and he was very proud of his garden. He not only planted flowers but also kept a small garden of Vegetables where he would grow beans, tomatoes, egg plant, broccoli, and much more. As a child I loved to spend the summer with my father. I’d help him plant flowers, and he taught me how to tend the garden. We would go fishing on his boat and he sometimes would allow me to swim in the lake before we left for home.
I had always been close to my father, maybe even closer to him than I was to my mother even though I love her dearly, but my father and I shared a special bond that my mother and I did not have. My father was an artist like me. He could draw, and paint, and he carved ducks out of wood. Anytime that I drew a picture or wrote a story I would show it to him and he would brag about what talent I had. As I grew older, we had a special night each week where we would meet at my apartment, rent some movies, and order a pizza. It was our special night to just hang out and have fun. I always looked forward to our movie nights because it was something special that he and I shared.
After I got married the movie nights ended but I was still close to my dad. In the summer we would have cook outs at the camp grounds where he kept a camper. I would take my daughter to the camp grounds and we would swim in the pool then visit with dad before he left for work. Every fourth of July we would watch the fireworks from my father’s boat. My daughter would squeal with excitement over the bright lights of the show reflecting off the dark water. It was an enjoyable time for all of us.
Holidays were wonderful, especially Christmas, because we would spend Christmas Eve with my dad and his family and then Christmas day with my mom. My dad loved to buy gifts for my children, especially cute dresses for my daughter. He said that she reminded him of me when I was a baby. He told me about a picture I’d had taken when I was very young. He kept the picture in his wallet for years after and he pulled it out to show me. I was dressed in a red velvet dress with black Mary-Jane shoes and white stockings. He said that the dress really brought out the color in my auburn hair. He found a similar dress at the store and bought it for my daughter the last Christmas before he passed away. He loved seeing her in that dress and I admit, she did look beautiful in it, maybe even more so than I did in mine.
That spring I had gotten out of bed early, awakened by my youngest son who had had a nightmare and started crying. I fixed him a bottle then sat in my rocker/recliner to feed him when the phone rang. My cousin had called to tell me the news about my father. He’d had a heart attack in the night and was found the next morning by my grandfather when he didn’t show up for work that day. I was in shock at first and I kept asking her to repeat what she had just told me as though I wasn’t hearing her correctly. I could hear the pain in her voice and I could tell that she had been crying. “Just a minute.” She told me. I clutched the phone in my hand and waited. Moments later my aunt was speaking to me, trying to explain to me what I was not ready to accept, my dad was gone.
I hugged my son to me tightly as the reality of the situation set in. I began to cry and shake as I clutched my baby. It couldn’t be real, it just couldn’t. I never thought that I would lose my father, he was everything to me, how could I possibly go on without him?
I woke my husband and told him the news. I think I was still in shock somewhat at the time. I didn’t seem real to me until I arrived at the camper and saw his body for myself. I hugged him and kissed him good-bye then gave the Okay for the funeral home to move him. Everything seemed so surreal then, as if I were having a terrible nightmare that I was begging to wake up from. Such dreams persist now, even nine years later; Dreams that I don’t want to wake up from because when I do, he’ll be gone again.
I’m not sure how long mourning is supposed to last. I know that it’s different for everyone. Some days are better than others and I do have all my fond memories of him to keep me going. Holidays are the hardest to bare; Christmas is probably the worst. I miss spending Christmas Eve with my father. I miss the look in his eyes when he held my children and the way he smiled at them and lit up when they called him Grandpa. I know it will easier with time but i will never stop missing him and I know that I’ll stop and shed a tear or two when I think about all the memories of him my children won’t have.
Christmas will be here soon, in another week in fact. My kids will get up and race to the tree to see what gifts “Santa” has left for them. They will eat way too much candy and cookies, and be bouncing off the walls by the time we arrive at my mother’s for Christmas dinner. We’ll probably have a really great time, I know the kids will, it’s their favorite holiday. I’ll have fun too, I do love watching them open gifts, but no matter how happy they are, or how good the food is, something will always be missing.
When I go to bed Christmas night I ‘ll light a candle for my father, in his memory. It’s my way of not only keeping his memory alive, but also a way of having him join us, though it’s not the same as actually having him here. I like to think though that he is here in some form or another, watching over us, maybe even protecting his grand-children. My mom doesn’t believe that once someone passes on they would return to look in on the living. I don’t really know for sure if they do or not but the idea that my my dad might be near me gives me a bit of peace and makes the holidays more bearable. So, for now, I’ll keep believing. I know he will never walk through my front door again, or call me on the phone. He won’t arrive for Christmas dinner, or wish me a happy birthday. I’ll never see him sitting on his porch on warm summer days, rocking back and forth in his chair with a cold glass of lemonade in his hand, but that doesn’t mean he’s gone, not really. As long as I keep his memory alive, and remember the good times we’ve shared he will forever be with me, in my heart, and in the hearts and memories of all who loved him and felt his love in return.