Everything changed when my dad died. January will mark three years since the patriarch of our family and a well-respected and loved administrator in our community left us. He was always the life of the party. In fact, he was one hell of a party planner. So it's no surprise that he was the center of many traditions in our family, in his group of friends, and throughout our entire community.
I thought the first year without him would be the hardest — 365 days of painful firsts without the man who lay at the heart of who I am. The first week, the first month, the first Thanksgiving, the first family fight — I figured once I survived all of these challenging firsts, things would get easier as time went on. I was wrong.
I do my best to keep the memories of years past alive, but they've slowly faded with time. When I think of them now, it gets harder and harder to recall the details that I used to see so clearly.
When my dad left the physical world, he took a big part of me with him. Of course, I cherish the memories we made together, but the more time that passes, the more those memories move further and further into the past. That's part of what makes the holidays particularly rough without him. Many of the traditions started and carried on by my dad died with him.
As the holidays approach each year, I'm reminded not only of the man I miss, but of the beloved family traditions that were such a huge part of my upbringing. The pain is magnified by the sadness I feel for my son, who will only hear of the stories of these traditions and not experience them himself. Of course, we could try to do them with our son, but without my dad here, it will never be the same.
Our Christmas Eve tradition growing up was something out of a movie. Our family room was decked out in beautiful Christmas decorations. Our Christmas tree, which my father always chose and decorated so carefully, sat in the corner. Our house smelled of Christmas cookies. And the stereo system pumped the best Christmas songs throughout the house. I always fondly remember the smile on my dad's face as he charismatically worked the room during our annual Christmas Eve open house.
Year after year, our house was filled with people on Christmas Eve. Some came before the party started and stayed until cleanup, while others stopped in for a quick drink in between their own family gatherings. It didn't matter who you were, whether you knew him, met him in passing, or were a friend of a friend who never met him at all, my dad wanted everyone to have a place to go on Christmas Eve. As a child, I remember worrying about having all those people in our house. As the hours grew later and there was still a crowd, how would Santa know to come?! I envisioned him passing right over the top of our house. Looking back now, I can't help but laugh at those innocent childish thoughts and cry at the memory.
My husband and I took over hosting Christmas Eve, but it's nothing like the years when my father did it. I do my best to keep the memories of years past alive, but they've slowly faded with time. When I think of them now — the moments that always filled me with such warmth and love — it gets harder and harder to recall the details that I used to see so clearly: the smell of the house I grew up in, the sound of laughter that filled the room, the feeling of my dad's arms wrapped around me as he sat beaming with pride over another successful Christmas Eve in the books.
What I've learned in these last three years since he died is that it's incredibly hard and heartbreaking to let go of traditions you loved for so many years. Our Christmas Eve open houses were comforting, fun, and a huge part of my life. But even though the traditions are gone, the love he gave us will always stay. And that gift is one I could never forget.