The Fifth Christmas

We had our annual holiday brunch over the weekend. As usual, it was a great day celebrating the season with our friends and family. That evening, I logged onto Facebook to see that, exactly five years ago, we held our brunch on the same day. Here’s the photo I posted from that day, in which we expressed our feelings about cancer:

Suck it, cancer.

I didn’t know it then, but December 3, 2011 was the last time Dad was ever in my house. He stayed all day and into the evening (the term “brunch” always ends up being a euphemism with this party), being fun and chatting with people and just ruling the party. My oldest, dearest friends Georgann, Ann, Jane, Sheri, and Ali (all of whom Dad loved) saw him for the last time that day, although they didn’t know it then. We took that group photo that day, which would be one of our last photos with him (although we didn’t know it then). He was just fun and amazing the whole time. I know now how sick he was, and I understand how difficult it was for him to even get dressed to leave the house– but while he was clearly ill, you would never have known just how sick he felt. He was the same on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 2011: fun and loving, and– although I didn’t know it then– dedicated to giving us the gift of one more precious holiday together. Now– on the other side of this great divide in our family’s life– I am beginning to understand the great heroics performed by Dad in those last days, rising above his illness to immerse himself in the holidays with us, this last time. I have great memories of that last holiday season. None of us was wearing blinders– Dad’s illness was present at all times– but we worked around it, and we found joy in being all together.

We have spent four subsequent Christmases without Dad, and we’re on the cusp of the fifth. In some ways it’s hard every year. However, as time goes by, I remember more and more Dad’s determination to give us all one last great Christmas. I was lucky enough to have 39 years with Dad– almost twice the number that he got with his own father– and a lifetime’s worth of happy Christmas memories. I’m going to try to be as strong and brave as he was, and honor his gift to us by focusing on the good.

But for real, still and always: suck it, cancer.


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