I wrote this last Christmas Eve Eve and never shared but somehow, today, on the day that we lost Michael’s dad 8 years ago, it feels right….
As I write this, Mike Miller and I are listening to Elvis Presley sing Blue Christmas—he with a glass of whiskey in hand and me with a glass of wine. And I’m crying my eyes out.
It’s Christmas Eve Eve and the truth of the matter is, we are missing Michael’s dad. This is our seventh Christmas without him and suddenly it seems like a lifetime since we spent Christmas with him, yet at the same time, the memories of what our lives were like when he was here–what Christmas was like when he was here–seem so tangible.
I was in high school when I met my husband and I will never forget the first Christmas I spent with his family. His dad gave me a book entitled “Funny Money.” I unwrapped it and tried to act so excited about the weird book he had just given me. Meanwhile, he had an ornery smirk on his face but before he told me his secret, he just let me squirm a little bit. I set the book down and thanked him for it, trying to feign excitement for the odd gift.
“Thank you so much for the book. I really appreciate it. I can’t wait to read it.”
“You might want to open to Chapter One,” he said in that deep, buttery voice of his.
I opened to Chapter One and found a twenty dollar bill.
“Oh thank you so much!” I stated emphatically. Then I shut the book and set it down again.
He chuckled yet again, a bit louder perhaps, than the first time. “You might want to open to Chapter Two and maybe even Chapter Three too,” he teased.
I’ll never forget the look on his face as he watched me pick the book up to flip through the chapters and realize that he had sprinkled twenty dollar bills throughout the entire book.
Giving was how Michael’s dad showed love so needless to say, he LOVED Christmas. He was a man who worked his whole life and wanted nothing for himself, other than to give to those he loved. How blessed I feel to have counted myself as one of those people.
I laugh when I look back now. I’m older now and hopefully, a bit wiser. I see the world a little bit differently. Then, I was a senior in high school—a little hot-tempered maybe, a lot headstrong, and independent as all get out. Ok so maybe not much has changed now that I think of it.
“I’m sorry I can’t accept this money,” I told him when I realized he had given me a large sum of money.
I will never forget the look on his face—disappointment for sure but perhaps even a touch of anger—as he responded to my refusal.
“Gifts from Santa Claus can’t be returned.” Then he walked out of the room.
I’m pretty sure I offended him but thank goodness he forgave me. I learned over the years to accept his acts of generosity because refusing it was to prevent him from showing love.
I miss him all the time but I miss him especially on Christmas. I miss him when I hear Elvis singing “Blue Christmas.” I miss him every time I hear “Santa Claus is coming to Town.” He loved that song. I miss him when I see my children open a present and he’s not there to watch them. I miss him today more than I did seven years ago.
I had a misconception about pain and loss and grief when we lost Michael’s dad. I thought there would be an ending point. Here’s the deal. There is no end to grief. It goes on forever.
I don’t say that to be mean or to crush hopes or dreams of healing. I say that to be realistic. I say that because I care. I say that because when my husband lost his father at 29 years old, I remember thinking to myself, “It will be so much better in a year.” But it wasn’t. Then I remember telling myself, “It will be so much better in 3 years.” But it wasn’t. Now here we are seven years down the road and the truth of the matter is, the pain never goes away. There isn’t an ending point to grief.
Five years from now you will miss your loved one even more than you do today, because it’s been that much longer since you’ve heard their laugh, or felt their embrace, or experienced the safety of their presence. It will have been that much longer since you’ve heard their voice; since you’ve been able to pick up the phone and call them to tell them something happy or ask their advice when you are struggling.
Here is the thing about grief: It doesn’t go away; but that doesn’t mean there isn’t hope. There is always hope.
You will heal. You will learn to live with the grief. Life will go on and you will learn to live with how bad it hurts to miss your loved one. You will live, but your life will be forever changed. That’s what I didn’t realize when we lost Michael’s dad. I didn’t realize that life would forever be different. I didn’t understand grief. I thought it was temporary. If I’m being honest, which is all I know how to do, I thought we could beat it. I thought we could beat grief.
Now, seven years down the road, I realize that there is no beating grief. There is only acceptance. There is learning to live with this hole that forever lives in your heart. And most of all, it is finding the strength to live a great life, because you know—YOU ABSOLUTELY UNEQUIVOCALLY KNOW—that living a great life is exactly what your loved one would want.
Recently a friend who I love and respect lost her father and she wrote this on one of her facebook posts:
“Life is never going to be the same. BUT. It’s still going to be a great life.”
Exactly Melissa, Exactly. You already have what took Michael and I at least 5 years to figure out. Life will never be the same. The grief will always be there.
But you’re still going to have a great life.
We miss you D-Dad. More today than we did 7 years ago. And that’s ok. We’re living a great life. And we know that is what you would want.
“Grief is like the ocean;
it comes in waves, ebbing and flowing.
Sometimes the water is calm and sometimes it is overwhelming.
All we can do is learn to swim.”
To all of you out there who have recently lost a loved one, I am so sorry for your loss. My prayer for you is that you will learn to swim, and find the strength to do what your loved one would want more than anything: LIVE A GREAT LIFE.