My favorite Christmas is also my worst Christmas. That statement might be a bit confusing but it makes perfect sense to me.
Christmas 2006 was spent at my parent’s home; tucked just outside of Charlottesville, VA. Our small family consisted of my father, mother, older sister and me. My older sister and I flew in a few days before Christmas for the festivities. There were slow winding drives through various neighborhoods to admire the beautifully decorated homes. We spent days cooking thru my Grandmothers famous cookie recipes and each night my father would light a fire to warm “his girls” cold toes. It was a wonderful lo-key family Christmas except for one hitch. My father was dying of Pancreatic Cancer.
We were all aware that this would be our last Christmas together as our original family unit. My father was very ill and there were trips to the hospital in between cookie baking and Christmas lights, but we all made sure we were making the most of each moment together. In recent years, we had spent the holidays apart but sent lots of gifts and called each other frequently. A subtle separation of the family had occurred and we were focused more on the gifts we would buy, rather than arranging to be together. In other words, we were getting so wrapped up in our on lives and the material side of the holiday, that we lost the true meaning of Christmas-LOVE and being with the ones you love.
After my fathers devastating diagnosis of cancer in July of 2006, it was painful obvious that the upcoming holiday season would be our most important and unforgettable. We decided to forego any gift giving and just concentrate on being together.
My parents’ home has always been like a time capsule of our lives. There are family pictures on tables, the piano, over the fireplace and even a few on the fridge. The table we used for our family dinners, when I grew up, was still in the kitchen and the afghans my grandmothers knitted, were thrown over the backs of the couches. My parents even had and the old turntable, with 8-tack player built-in, that was still able to play their 1970’s Christmas albums. The twin bed I had slept in as a child had made its way to one of the guest rooms and was surprisingly comforting to me as I tried to sleep each night.
Despite the ideal surrounds and activities, our family was struggling with being profoundly sad and afraid. Some of the days, it was difficult for my father to get dressed. Other times he just wanted to sit in his recliner while we went about our business. He was always one to play his cards close to the vest. I know that he kept a lot of his fears and sadness to himself, which I respected. I couldn’t even imagine staring down the barrel of your own mortality. Thankfully, my father and I had several hours to ourselves one evening after my mother and sister went across the street to visit friends. During those few hours, my father and I got to talk about all that he was facing, his life, hopes for the family and his childhood memories. It was something I will never forget and that conversation stays locked deep inside my heart.
As the holiday came to a close and we were all preparing to leave, I said what I knew would be my final face-to-face goodbye to my father. Walking out their front door, to return home, was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. My father died a week later.
Here I am 3 years later, thinking about that Christmas. The emotional pain of those days has given way to images my father stoking the fire, the smell of the cookies baking, hearing hilarious stories from his childhood and our little family of four sitting around the dining room table for Christmas dinner.
That Christmas was both joyful and tragic for me. I took away a full sense of the importance of not only the holiday itself, but of how to approach each day of my life. I make sure my family and friends know how much I care for them and I don’t allow myself to get swept away with buying unnecessary gifts. Now, each Christmas I light a small candle, think back to that time with my family and blow a kiss of thanks to my father.