I’ve been absent, missing, maybe even avoiding this blog. This time of year has become painful, depressing and stressful even though I don’t want it to be. I think, “I should decorate, I should buy presents, I should be spreading joy.” But this year, and last year I only felt great sadness. I’ve been missing my dad, this was his favorite time of year.
Christmas Eve morning 2008, we packed 2 cars full of gifts, kids & cats and drove the one and a half hours to my parents house. This was the first year we had been able to get there early, and we needed to be early to help with preparations. Mom & Dad were getting older and their health was declining, especially Dad.
After arriving we hustled & bustled to finish putting up decorations, help wrap gifts, and settle the cats. I asked where Dad was and someone noticed his car was gone. Mom thought he probably went to the post office or the grocery store. He had been using oxygen for a year so he usually didn’t go far because he had to carry it with him. After several hours we began to worry. My brother said, “You know Dad was frustrated last night because he hadn’t bought any gifts, I bet he went shopping.”
My dad was under doctors orders not to go shopping, and not to push himself. My brother had done all the shopping online for him. He was hard of hearing and didn’t use a cell phone so we had no way to find out if he was okay. Finally, late in the afternoon he came home with 2 shopping bags full of gifts. I said, “Dad, you didn’t need to do that,” and he replied, “But Christmas is for giving, I didn’t have anything to give.” My dad had always done most of the Christmas shopping for our family himself, he just loved doing it.
We told him to go rest, and he did, but after dinner he was down in the basement wrapping all the gifts. My brother went to help him but he wouldn’t let anyone else go down there, he didn’t want to spoil the surprise. Dad had always done a lot of the wrapping to, he loved fancy wrappings and bows and making every present look special. Mom’s thing was baking and card making, she helped Dad with the gifts, but he was in charge.
Christmas morning went according to schedule: the stockings were plundered, we had a lovely breakfast and cleaned up, did the annual family photo session, and then gifts were handed out. It was lovely, but dad looked a little weak. Later as we were enjoying our gifts and tormenting the cats with ribbons we didn’t notice he had slipped out of the room.
Our Christmas dinner starts around 2 PM. It’s a grand affair like Thanksgiving, and we usually eat so much that we save the desserts for the evening. When we sat down to say grace I asked “Where’s Dad?” Mom said, “He doesn’t feel well, he wont be coming down.” Never in my life had I seen Dad miss Christmas dinner. We said a special prayer for him and reluctantly ate without him.
Mom was very fidgety and restless, she kept going upstairs to see how he was. My Mom was an RN and had worked with Hospice for 20 years. I knew something was wrong, but she was trying not to alarm anyone. We did the dishes and got out the board games as usual and then Mom came to tell us she needed to take Dad to the hospital. I said I would go with her. My husband and brother helped my dad to the car.
He was in bad shape and we got there just in time. His heart stopped and we watched as they used the defibrillator on him. We were there a long time until they got him stable and we knew he was being well cared for, but he didn’t come home with us that night. This was the beginning of 9 months of repeated hospital visits, surgeries, and lengthy spells in the hospital.
Eventually he was in convalescence care, but they ran out of insurance and medicare benefits, and my dad wanted to go home anyway. Six weeks after he went home he died, in August of 2009. Mom and I, and my youngest son, were there with him. It is not something you can ever really be prepared for even though you know it’s coming.
I told this Christmas 2008 story at his funeral, because Dad was a giver right to the end. So many people loved him and over 200 people came to his funeral, many from out of town and even out of state. I was trying to be strong for my mom and my kids, and there were so many details to take care of, so it took some time before his absence hit me.
Christmas 2009 was when it really hit home. The impact of him being gone has gradually grown on me over the past 2 years, and I think I’m grieving more now than before. Our lives go on and there were many other crisis situations I had to deal with, having 2 kids in college and being laid off from work. Oh yes, Christmas 2009 I was laid off and have not been able to find consistent work since.
My mom has also been in the hospital and had surgery since then. Her health and memory has declined rapidly causing my brother to move in with her, to care for her and her finances. It’s like watching someone slowly wither away. We try to keep our visits positive, fun and loving, but since my dad passed it’s just not the same. My Mom really misses him a lot and I can see what it’s doing to her. Christmas 2010 was also challenging.
I know my dad is in a good place, I just miss him. He was always bright and positive and strong, always helpful, always giving. Seeing my parents age and leave this world has made me look at my own mortality, especially since I also have health problems. I’m not as healthy as they were at my age. I take care of myself but the stress of being unemployed is not helping me.
Christmas 2011 feels like an illusion, or trying to recreate a memory that’s fading. I’m trying to be positive, strong and giving like my dad, but we have serious financial troubles. If he was here he would find a way to help me, he always did. I’m trying to be like him, I’m trying to find a way to keep giving.