When I was younger, my belief in Santa Claus was fueled by the special magic that my Dad poured into the season with every story, detail and image he crafted up in my mind. I probably believed longer than I should have but my big green eyes held such a devout love and trust for my Dad that there was no room for doubt in my mind woven in the fabric he delicately weaved in animated versions of hearing bells and hooves on rooftops. There comes a day when that belief is challenged and we are forever changed. Some call it a rite of passage to “learn the truth.” For me, that day came while hosting a friend for a playdate. Over a Big-Mac, my eyes began to swell as my mouth dropped in shock and my heart filled with hurt. “My little brother still believes in Santa,” my friend laughed, sprawling back into the chair with a fist full of fries. I could feel my Dad’s eyes on me. She quickly paused, noticing the look on my face, “Oh, you didn’t know?” As.if.those.words.helped.the.situation. Needless to say it was a short playdate. As we said goodbye to my friend, my Dad closed the front door and immediately exclaimed, “What a HORRIBLE little girl! Is it any wonder why Santa doesn’t visit her?” I slowly stopped crying, sniffed up my tears in between big deep breaths and through broken words uttered, “Ye-ah… Y-e-s.” With a confidence as though his life depended on it, he looked at me with his steel blue eyes and hugged me with a reassuring, “I love you.” Looking back, I know it wasn’t so much that I believed in Santa, but rather, with every fiber in my soul, I believed in my Dad.
This is the first year I won’t be addressing a Christmas card to my Dad. He joined the angel choir on July 3rd. My Dad always claimed I got my singing voice from him as he was a member of his HS choir. He’d then proceed to show me a few of his dance moves in the kitchen and turn back to me with a smile and say, “Maybe you got your dancing from me too?” He was a skinny kid with iconic black glasses that grew up in the projects of Chicago, a child of a single mother who received a K-12 Catholic education, loved antique cars (and speed), had a job parking cars at the age of 13 and could speak to people of all walks of life with no judgment or air. He told me he was planning on becoming a priest until he met my Mother. Together, they worked hard and created a beautiful life. Thirty years after my mom passed away from cancer at 47 when I was in high school, cancer would also take him away in my 47th year.
After learning that there were no treatment options left and that he’d be placed in hospice, my Dad shared with me, “Being told you’re going to die is hard.” He looked up at me from his hospital bed, eye to eye, reflecting a sharp piercing glimpse of our souls, “I think it would be easier if you just went fast. You won’t forget me, will you?” Being able to say goodbye to someone is a rare gift. It’s one I will always cherish. There are no guarantees on when we make our next transition, but we can make the most of the opportunities given now to say what we feel to those we love and care about. By sharing stories of those that pass, we keep them alive in our hearts. My father’s death has uprooted a lot of emotions from my mother’s passing as well. It’s also made me ponder the thought of who will keep me alive in their hearts by sharing stories when I’m gone? My friends, when you discover the answer to that it becomes crystal clear as to what your priorities are in life and helps you to become laser focused on those hearts above all things. This season, my wish for you is that you give someone a reason to believe (in whatever…themselves, a goal, a hope…you) and that you embrace every opportunity given to share what’s written on your heart with those who matter most. Those are the people that will keep your stories forever tucked away in their hearts.
Our boys are now young men and our dog is furr-ever our toddler. We now have two teens attending high school! The realization that you really only get 18 summers with your children has become a bit of a stinging reminder with every inch they tower over us with. The easy years, the simple years really are when you’re knee deep in diapers, bottles and toys. Now, they have their own educated and informed opinions that can question the best of parent logic. “We celebrate these moments,” I hear a whisper in my head gently nudge and remind me of that lesson learned back when they were in pre-school. When they exert their independence, we as parents are doing our job well.
21 years later from our first date…From Chicago, to Minnesota, to our little slice of heaven of Danville, we count all our blessings daily, sometimes in the form of hugs and tears of joy. Merry Everything!