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November 26, 2021

The First “Withouts”—after you Lose a Parent.

Tonight as I was busy prepping for Thanksgiving dinner, a sudden sadness swept over me.

I started to cry as I realized that this is the first Thanksgiving without my dad. Next month will be the first Christmas without him, and in January it will be his birthday and he’s not here.

It would have been his 82nd birthday. I won’t be able to call him and trying to be the first person to wish him happy birthday. I can still hear his chuckle as I would ask him, “Am I the first call you got today to wish you a happy birthday?” Sometimes, it was a yes and sometimes, he may have just said yes because it was a little game we played every year and he knew how much I loved to be the first one.

Even more sad to me is that last year due to the pandemic, we didn’t get to spend his last Thanksgiving, his last Christmas, and his last birthday with him. We didn’t know it would be his last of all of these at the time, and if I did, I would have said screw it and spent it with him anyway. But the thing about cancer is, you often don’t know that this year will be their last until it’s too late. We found out he was sick in February of this year and he was gone by April—less than three months later. He died the day before my birthday and life after for me will never be the same.

It’s always difficult after you lose a parent. You live day-to-day; some days are good and some days are bad. But the holidays really seem to hit hard. The holidays usually hold their own special spot in our hearts.

My memories go clear back to when I was a child. I can still feel a warm nostalgia deep inside of me when I think of being with my mom and dad, my brothers, my grandparents, my aunts, uncles and cousins at my grandparent’s ranch for Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was a warm, happy place that I can still see so clearly when I close my eyes. There was always so much laughter and love that filled the room every time we were all together. We were a loud bunch and conversations between the adults tended to get pretty boisterous! The feeling of deep, genuine love and affection between us was evident, and I felt so lucky to call them my family.

I cherish those memories to this day. I can still see my grandpa coming through the back door after finishing his chores at the ranch. He would walk into the kitchen, brushing the snow off of his jacket, take off his hat and gloves, and hang then on the hook next to the door. My grandma would be there to hand him a cup of coffee to warm him up or sometimes a hot toddy—because after all, it was Christmas!

It’s weird the memories that stick in our minds, memories that we each hold dear. And this is one of mine. I am thankful that this is ingrained in my memories and I can always reach deep inside and see my grandparents just by closing my eyes. I can still hear grandma’s laugh and grandpa’s voice as he told us a crazy story that may or may not have been a bit embellished. But that made it even more fun to listen to.

As we grew older, the holidays at the ranch became few and far between. Most of us kids, the cousins and brothers and sisters, got married and started to have our own families. Grandparents passed away and the time spent with the extended family seemed to be reserved to a visit every three or four years and family reunions and funerals. That’s such a hard thing to realize—but it’s life, and it goes by so fast, and that’s just what happened.

But the holidays and birthdays with my dad and mom and my brothers was still a constant in our lives. We always made them special and always found the time to be together. As our families grew, there were a lot of birthdays to celebrate, so along with the holidays, we all typically got together at least once a month. We did this because we wanted to, not because we had to. Not out of obligation, but because our time together was special and we genuinely enjoyed being together. I miss those times so much.

The past eight years brought about my divorce, my parents moving a few hours away, my nephew passing away, and one of my brothers moving to another state because it was too painful to continue to live in this area after that. With the distance between all of us, the birthday celebrations stopped. Thanksgiving was limited to our own families for the most part, as it was difficult to all get together, with everyone being so far apart. But we still did our best to be together for Christmas. We would all converge on my mom and dad’s house for a few days. Many more happy memories were being made together as a family. I will always hold these close to my heart as they were the last that I have with my dad

Here we are in 2021 with the holidays upon us again. My dad has passed, my mom will be with my brother and his family in Arizona, and my younger brother and his family will spend the holidays with his wife’s family. I have my kids and their significant others who I will spend the holidays with and I am thankful for this. But there is a deep sadness that things have changed. Those days of being all together during the holidays seem to have passed along with my dad.

As I reflect on this today, my advice for anyone reading this is that no matter where you are in life and no matter how busy you are, take the time to be with the ones you love as much as you possibly can.

I am so thankful for the time I had with my dad and that I took the time to celebrate so many special days with him and everyone in my family. When you lose someone who was a constant in your life, only then do you realize how lucky you were to have had that time with them.

All we have in the end are the memories that we make. So make as many memories as you can with those you love. When you look back at your life, you won’t remember the hours you spent working and trying to get ahead. You won’t say to yourself “I sure wish I would have worked harder and more than I did.” But I can guarantee that you will wish that you had taken the time to be with those that you love more than you did.

As much time as I spent with my dad, I will always wish I would have had more time with him. Someday, I know I will see him again and I will wish him a happy birthday and I will hear him chuckle as he tells me, “Yes! You were the first.” Until then, I will cherish every memory I have of him.

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