This is our first Christmas without my Dad. I debated about making this post today, but it is just so fresh on my mind. Through all the smiles, laughs, jokes and gifts, thoughts of my Dad are right at the forefront of my mind. I am hoping writing about him a bit will help me to sort it all out.
Last Christmas Dad was deep in the throes of Chemotherapy and Radiation treatments. He had already had one brain surgery and would end up having one more. I remember so clearly when he and my Mom arrived at my house on Christmas Eve so we could head to church. At this point my very active, very spry Dad was walking with the major assistance of a cane and had already lost about 20 pounds, which made him look so small. I remember when we got to church having to pull up and let him out so he could ride the elevator to the second floor, as he couldn't manage steps. I so clearly remember stifling tears and it being so difficult to see him looking so, well, old. And sick.
We sat in the front row for that service, next to the Chrismon tree and right in front of my pastor who came over and just hugged me so tightly. He knew how bittersweet and difficult this was for us. We worshipped, sang, accepted communion and just soaked in the beauty and magic of the night.
Afterwards we came back to my house. Fortunately it was a rather warm Christmas Eve (I believe Christmas Day was 80 degrees last year!). Dad was a smoker, as is my brother. So Dad, my brother, my husband and I sat out on my porch, drank wine and talked until Mom said it was time for them to go home around midnight. It was the most wonderful Christmas Eve of my life. Dad's cane was tucked in the house and it was like all was normal again. We laughed, shared stories and memories. Even then I remember not wanting that night to end. I knew, deep down, that this would likely be our last Christmas Eve together, but we didn't talk about that. We told stories of growing up, his Navy years, politics, you name it. I have rarely felt such deep love and contentment as I did that evening.
My Dad and Abby (my oldest) used to enjoy watching birds. He taught her a lot about them and gave her a great appreciation. Their favorite bird was, believe it or not, the Mockingbird. One day when Dad was nearing the end, as he lay in his hospital bed in Mom's living room, he told me to tell Abby anytime she sees a Mockingbird that will be her Granddad looking after her. You would not believe all the times a Mockingbird has made a special appearance since he died 8 months ago today.
As I debated about writing this today, I sat on my couch looking out the window at my porch where we shared our special Christmas Eve. All of a sudden there was a Mockingbird. In Dad's chair. I got up to get a closer look and it just sat there looking at me for the longest time. I bowed my head and sobbed. When I looked back up it was gone.
I am going to have to get myself together now, stop crying and put on a brave face for my kids. It just really hurts not having Dad here. It hurts to my very core. There is an emptiness in my heart that most days is easier to put aside. Today is just a tough one.