My Dad wasn’t much of a cook growing up. Our dinners almost always consisted of one of the following options:
- Dinty Moore Beef Stew
- Frozen Fish Sticks
- Frozen Egg Rolls
- Canned soups
About once a year he would buy a pot roast and throw it in the crock pot with some potatoes. That was always awesome. And then there was Thanksgiving. Dad would buy a turkey, stuff it with boxed stuffing, and cook it with no extra or fancy treatment. He would usually put it in early and by lunch we’d be chowing on turkey and stuffing, sometimes with a canned vegetable or two. It was awesome in every way you can imagine. And I could not stop thinking about it over our own Thanksgiving week. I started cooking several days in advanced. I brined my turkey for 24 hours. I made mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes from scratch. I baked dessert. I made three casseroles. All of that effort for one meal that was no better than the basic turkey and stuffing my Dad used to make. It definitely came no where near to good enough to even keep me from missing his turkey and stuffing. God, I missed him so much. I knew it would be hard, but I don’t think I realized how hard or how many different things would trigger memories of him.
I was starting on Christmas cards this morning and going through my mailing list. I came to Dad’s name and stopped and stared at it. No need to send a card to that address, it would just get forwarded to my house. Because he’s gone. I stared at that entry for a bit just thinking about that. I didn’t need to send him one. He always loved my annual family letters updating everyone, and this year it mentions losing him. Yet still, until I saw his name and address in my spreadsheet, it didn’t hit me that I wouldn’t be sending him one. I deleted his name from the list. And cried my eyes out, texted my brother, and cried some more.
He’s a part of everything I do over the Holidays because we spent so many of them together. If we were in Huntsville, he did his best to be here as well. He was here last year for Christmas, he watched us put reindeer food on our front yard and he helped put toys together Christmas morning. He loved leftovers and never minded eating them every meal for days. He always thought we way overdid Christmas for the kids. But he never criticized us for that. He just wondered if we were ever disappointed with our own Christmas as kids. I lied and said, “No.” I felt selfish for immediately thinking of the Christmas that I wanted the sweatshirt with Opus on it that I had seen at the mall. Dad evidently waited too long and they were sold out. I’m very glad he went to his grave not knowing I still think about that damn sweatshirt. It would break his heart.
It’s amazing how fresh the pain feels these last few weeks. It hits me so hard, brings me to tears so fast, that I sometimes feel as though I just walked out of the hospice after saying goodbye to his lifeless body. It feels that raw, that painful. And I hate it because I don’t want this sorrow to ruin the holidays for me, there are too many other people in my family counting on a happy Christmas. Dad would want me to give them a happy Christmas.
So, I cry a lot…but I also hug my kids a lot. I’ve been trying to keep myself busy with things that make me happy — like Christmas activities with the kids. And beer. Sometimes there are tears hiding behind the smiles, but other times there are smiles hiding behind the tears. It’s the best I can do right now. I can not escape the holidays without any sad moments missing my Dad, no matter how much he would want me to. So, I just carry on. Cry when I need to cry, but not let those tears blind me to the joys of the season as well. Joy and Sadness are not always mutually exclusive, I’m learning. Sometimes the richest joy is wrapped in the thickest sadness because sometimes it takes a loss of one love to remind you to cherish the others.