My Father's Final Christmas
Revisiting Ghosts of Christmases Past
Christmas is supposed to be a joyous time. On television, we see scenes of festive celebrations and watch sitcoms that solve a holiday crisis in less than 30 minutes. I sometimes wonder what would happen if they developed a holiday reality show. Statistically, the holidays are stressful, trying times for people. More people die during this time of year than any other. Some of you may have noticed an increase in the number of obituaries in the newspapers.
Although my mind should be on work, Christmas shopping, and the other traditional joys of the season, this week my mind and my heart are with those who are mourning during this "season of joy." Their sorrow becomes my sorrow too, and as I think about the losses of others during this time, I think back to the last Christmas we had with my father.
My father had a habit of buying himself what he wanted for Christmas, then wrapping it in a package listed "from Santa." I suppose he had gotten used to ties and electric razors every year from "his girls" and simply adjusted. There were years as well when Daddy would say to me, out of the blue, "I want a 60-foot extension cord, and they have them at Lowe's," and I knew to go to Lowe's to get his present.
Seven years ago, Daddy was in the hospital throughout the Christmas season. In fact, he was in and out of the hospital all year. That year, Daddy could do no shopping for himself, and I really wanted to get him the perfect gift. So, one quiet day, while sitting with him in his hospital room, I asked, "Daddy, what do you want for Christmas?" For his present, Daddy asked me to write his obituary. I was dumbfounded. But the next day, when I went to visit him, I took my notebook and pen with me, and Daddy and I talked about his life.
I learned so much about my father that day. I learned there was a lifetime of accomplishments before I ever came along. See, I knew my father as a college administrator, a postman, and then a business owner. But I never knew that he was once a minister, and I never knew so many things about the man who was only my father for half of his life. To me, he was my father all my life, and very rarely did I ever think about who he was or what he had done before he became a father. In my mind, he was the man who tried to teach me patience, self-awareness, and responsibility. I never even thought about what my father was like as a young man, with a future ahead of him, when I was just a twinkle in his eye. Daddy asked for the obituary for his Christmas present, but it was also a present to me. To think that I almost missed that chance to hear him share his accomplishments; that opportunity to see him smile proudly as I exclaimed, "Really? I didn't know that! Why didn't I know that?"
We celebrated Christmas in the hospital that year, with Daddy opening wrapped boxes of sweatpants and non-slip socks and other things needed for a hospital stay. Daddy was tired and swollen from medication. He did his best to smile and be joyous, although I know he was worn down, and ailing. He did not read, or feel a need to read, his own obituary that day--just asked if I had finished it. I had, and typed it into my computer and hit “save.” We did not need to use it until March of the following year.
An obituary is an odd Christmas present, yes, but that year, it was a wonderful present. Writing that obituary was a touching experience for both my father and me because we had the chance to celebrate his life together. It is a sad Christmas memory, but one I will cherish forever.
Yes, we are given the impression that Christmas is a time of joy and celebration. But for many, Christmas is a time of loneliness, sadness, and mourning. If you know someone who is alone or has experienced a loss this season, please invite them to join you in your celebration, or take time from your busy holiday schedule to offer condolences or help. --Lisa