I do not really do well with the holidays. If it were not for my daughters and the childhood traditions that they look forward to each year, I would probably never know which holiday is being celebrated and if it has come and gone. I am not proud of this, now does Wendy like it. After twelve years, she still cannot understand the bell that tolls for me seemingly every time a holiday approaches.
I do not begrudge anyone celebrating the holidays either. I have hoped for a long time, that I would stop feeling the way that I do about Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, and so on. But each time ground is gained, it happens again, and again, and again.
I was diagnosed with my Hodgkin’s Disease, just days before Thanksgiving in 1988. I am coming up on the five year anniversary of my emergency heart bypass surgery. While married to my ex-wife, she was involved in a horrific head-on collision just after New Year’s Day. There was a horrific time period between Christmas and New Year’s Day that three of my relatives passed away. The list of sadness goes on with several more incidents, all around the major holidays. I can get just so close to finally opening my heart and beliefs to receiving the holidays for the gifts that they can truly be, and then again, I am leveled. I am literally petrified of approaching holidays, afraid of the doom and gloom that I believe without a doubt that is going to accompany it.
Just a couple of weeks ago, it has happened again.
My father was diagnosed with lung cancer. I am encouraged at the staging of the disease that he has a good chance to beat it. While I do not believe at all that holidays cause bad things to happen, I have grown tired of the coincidence of the timing, seemingly every time. I know my father feels the same way. More than a decade ago, my father’s life changed forever just days before Christmas. Following an unresolved argument, my father went out to his car, started it, and looked for my stepmother who finally walked out of the house. Both angry from the argument, the moment in time can never be taken back, nor, according to my father, can the guilt that he has lived with since that night, ever be resolved. As my stepmother crossed the street, my dad watched her get hit by the car she did not see, fly through the air, severely injured.
For the same reason I still do, my father will celebrate the holidays, because he knows they are important to my daughters, his grandchildren. There is an innocence that both of us will not take away from the girls whether it be Christmas or Easter. For at least the day, we forget all of the negative things that have happened in the past, and do our best not to wonder what will happen next.
My parents divorced nearly forty-five years ago and in stereotypical history, the common custodial issue of siding with one parent, the parent with the custody, I grew up with skewed feelings of my father (I am obviously putting this nicely). Half way through my life, my father and I made amends. And in recent years, he has asked only one thing.
My dad wanted to host a family dinner for Easter. My dad has taken the back seat with every holiday during my childhood, and during adulthood, the holidays at best, were split between he, the rest of my family, and my in-laws (both sets). But a few years ago, Wendy agreed with me, to let Easter be my father’s holiday.
He enjoys having my sister and stepbrother, all of the grandchildren and now great-grandchildren. It is only for two or three hours, but it is the one time that he can truly enjoy a holiday. Just as we have done with other years, following dinner, my stepbrother and I will go out, toss Easter eggs throughout my yard, which I just cleared out of “dog bombs” that had been revealed from the melted snow.
But once again, there is a specter hanging over this holiday. It is weighing heavily on his mind. I do not think he shares my confidence in the prognosis as last week, when discussing who would come visit tomorrow, he stated “I just want one more Easter with everyone.”
I am a cancer survivor. Years ago, my dad revealed to me why he could not be more involved with me during my battle with cancer. And it is something that I am going to keep within for the time being because I need him to concentrate on “now”, not then. In a couple of weeks, I will return to the “public speaking circuit” to talk about my life as a cancer survivor. It is my hope to reach as many survivors and inspire them with my longevity, that hopefully they too will see decades of future days with newer and better treatments being used today. Never before has one of my speeches been so important for inspiration, as it is right now.
And my dad knows this. He has me in his corner as an advocate. I have heard the conversations with the doctors, and my knowledge and experience of cancers and treatments, I believe that he can beat this cancer. But I respect his fear. I have been there. There are no guarantees and I know that. But I also respect his wishes, that we get together today.
My daughters, one now ten years old, still both believe in the Easter Bunny (as well as Santa Claus and leperachauns – well at least our older daughter does not let on as if to protect her younger sibling). Early in the morning, they will come downstairs looking for the basket of goodies that the Easter Bunny traditionally hides in our home (and has done so since I was a young boy). We will have dinner, and then they will gather eggs scattered in our yard. My dad will hear so much laughter. And at least for a little while, my dad and I will forget what is looming.