Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Christmas – A Time To Remember

I was raised Lutheran which allowed me to observe Christmas with two directions of focus.  The first, and most important at the time was making sure I was good for Santa Claus so that he would remember to bring me nice things.  But equally just as important, and often more emphasized with the four weeks of Advent in the church calendar, I was taught the importance of the birth of Christ (apologies to my friends of different faith or beliefs as your feelings will probably differ).

But Christmas would never be the same to me in 1988 when I was diagnosed with cancer.  Though I am long in remission, having to deal with a life threatening illness or situation, gave me a totally new perspective on perhaps one of the biggest holidays of the year.  It was not until 1990 that my heart finally began to welcome Christmas again.  But gift-giving, rather receiving was no longer important to me, or wanted.  As far as I was concerned, I got the greatest gift of all, a second shot at life, and there could be no other gift that would ever mean anything to me.

Over the years, I have experienced more health woes, several fairly serious.  I would also experience loss of family and friends.  The hardest passing for me was that of my grandmother.  Charged with raising me while my mother worked, my grandmother was my moral compass for nearly 30 years.  I was completely lost without her, and holidays were never the same.

Today, I celebrate the holidays with Wendy and our two daughters.  I do so for them.

This Christmas is one of my more difficult holidays in recent years.  I spent at least three episodes hospitalized, two with life-threatening implications.  Several good friends passed away, many fellow long term cancer survivors such as myself.  And then of course, bearing an unbelievable amount of sorrow, the tragedies this year suffered at the hands of others, most recently the school in Connecticut.  What has probably been an enjoyable time of year for dozens of families, and the country, are now horribly shaken with sorrow.

Personally, my brother-in-law Mike passed away this Fall after a courageous fight with ALS (Lou Gerhig’s Disease).  Mike was a confidente, a friend, a brother to me.  For over eleven years, I had someone that I trusted and confided in, sought advice and solace, and a lot of time, shared a lot of laughs, many of which came during family gatherings during the Advent season.  This is the first Christmas without Mike.  Even more difficult for me, it will be even more so for my sister-in-law.  Recently we gathered for what has been a traditional winter event, game night.  We would get together either at one of my in-law’s homes or my home for a night of food, fun, and games.  Mike and I were notorious for pushing limits with responses and one-liners.  Clearly I missed my sidekick or partner-in-crime.  I am not the only one who will miss Mike as witnessed during his memorial, evidenced by a viewing line nearly two hours in length.

This no doubt is going to be a difficult season for me, my sister-in-law, family,friends, and a nation.  One way that I plan to get through it, is to remember that at one time, Christmas was about innocence, joy, celebration.  And my faith has taught me to believe, that no matter the circumstances, there is solace that is provided by the supreme being that I believe in.  I will remember the great times that I had with Mike.  I will never forget the support offered me by Karen, Peter, and Kim.  I will always remember the faces of the children who now spend their Christmas’s in Heaven (or where their faiths have taken them). 

But I will also remember the faces of my daughters three early mornings from now.  And I will make sure that they remember why we celebrate Christmas, and the wonderful gifts they get from Santa, and us too.

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