Most stories about Christmas are happy ones, but the truth is that life is not always happy. Sometimes bad things happen, and sometimes they happen during the holiday season. There are people who are hoping that this holiday season passes quickly because they have just lost someone they love. What I hope they will hear in this story, is that they are not alone. Many people experience pain and loss around the holidays. It is all the more reason to enjoy the good times and value our loved ones while we still have them in our lives.
My father first found out that he had cancer when I was six years old. The years went by and cancer became something that we lived with. Since I was so young when it started, I don’t really remember life before his cancer. The fear that you experience is like a cancer itself. It grows and contaminates every aspect of your life, and yet, in time, it becomes a new “normal” that you learn to live with. It was a part of my life for the next fifteen years. There were years when the cancer was “active” and there were years when it was in remission, but it was always there. But one year, 1979, was different.
I was working in New York City and my father was in a hospital nearby. That autumn, I spent a lot of time just sitting and talking with him during my lunch break or after work. I was twenty-one years old and he was sixty-one. We talked a lot about death because he needed to talk about it. Those days were invaluable, and helped us both heal from mistakes of the past.
He came home from the hospital about a week before Christmas. We were so happy to have him home! The tree was up, the house was decorated, and the presents were wrapped. But on the night of December 19th, my father took a turn for the worse. Just before dawn on December 20th, we called the fire department and an ambulance came for him. There was ice and snow on the concrete steps leading up to our house. It made it difficult for the men to carry my father on the stretcher, but thankfully, they were able to do so without anyone slipping. In the emergency room, my father held my hand and said what I thought would be his last words, “I want to go home.” When I informed the nurse of his wishes, she was surprised that he was talking. It seemed that he was springing back from the brink, so they prepared a room for him. Shortly after they moved him to his room, the priest arrived. He had been called earlier to give my father his last rights. I asked the priest if I could go up to the room with him and he agreed. While I stood at the door to my father’s hospital room, and the priest performed the last rights, my father passed away.
I remember leaving the hospital that morning and thinking that I just didn’t understand why. Why was this time different? Why didn’t he recover like he always had before? The next few days we spent at his wake and then he was buried on Christmas Eve. On Christmas morning, my family sat around the tree and opened presents. I just remember crying and crying and crying. My father’s presents were there, untouched and unopened.
A week later, my brother found a poem that my father had written over the past couple of months. He found it in my father’s workshop in a machinist manual. It was addressed to my mother and it said,
When comes the day that I shall die,
Please pray for me instead of cry.
The life I spent with you my dear,
Was one of love, respect, and cheer.
I’ll miss my girls, I’ll miss my boys,
Throughout the years, they brought great joys.
I pray that they’ll watch over you,
and make you gay instead of blue.
It was one last gift from him to our family. And it was more precious than any gift I had ever received before. My father always loved words, he loved to read and he enjoyed writing an occasional poem. He spoke to us through this poem one last time, and it told me that he did get to come home after all. I believe it was his way of letting us know that he was still there, and that he would always be there, watching over us.
http://www.theresadodaro.com Author of The Tin Box Trilogy