The holidays are joyous times. Christmas day means family gatherings, dinners, drinks, laughter and presents. Nothing, many say, counts more than family, so treasure those moments with them.
That’s why the death of a loved one hurts. And no matter how we try to go on with our lives, things are never the same. As we get older, time flies. Really. The years disappear faster and faster. People I once knew and loved and spent time with, are gone.
My father died in April. He was 86 years old and it was unexpected. This will be my first Christmas on this Earth without him. I miss our daily phone calls, our talks about Notre Dame’s football team, what we think of the celebrities on “Dancing with the Stars,” our finds at the thrift stores and if I had received the latest batch of newspaper clippings cut from the Seattle Times and the Everett Herald he sent my way.
The last time I spoke to him in person was New Year’s Day 2016. We went home for the holidays and our family spent New Year’s Eve together at my sister’s home. And I regret not spending more time with him on New Year’s Day. We only watched part of the Notre Dame game because I went running with my youngest sister that morning and then to a polar bear plunge at noon with a nephew. My father and I chatted briefly before our last good-byes as I left for the airport and headed back to Kauai. I wish I could remember with clarity our final conversation. He had his flaws, but he was a good man who gave much for his wife and seven children.
A cousin, a brilliant woman close to my age, committed suicide earlier this year. She had a long-running battle with depression and finally lost. When we were kids, we played together on our annual trips from Seattle to Montana. I remember her as being bright and beautiful and wish I had kept in touch when we grew up.
Another relative, also about my age and a man in seemingly perfect health, strong, powerful and gifted home builder, died suddenly. No warning signs. He took a lunch break from a project with his sons, and when he rose to return to work, he collapsed. Cardiac arrest. I remember him fondly. When we would take our family to Montana to visit relatives, when our kids were young, we would play basketball in the barn for hours. They were fierce battles. Soaked in sweat when we were done, beat up and drained. My cousin was like a piece of steel. Unmovable. I tried to push him aside for a rebound, but he didn’t budge. I realized, then, he was taking it easy on me. He, too, was a good man with a big heart.
It’s been just over five years since my youngest sister, just 49, passed away of brain cancer. She was a bright, vibrant spirit who delighted in life and the only one of my sisters who seemed to quite enjoy giving me a bad time. When we adopted two old black labs back in Idaho, she told me I was finally becoming the kind, gentle soul that she knew was inside me. I still consider myself a cynical, doubting Thomas, but perhaps, at some point, I will prove her right.
I don’t know exactly how you’re supposed to deal with the death of a loved one. I guess you should talk to people. I’m not a fan of that. I figure for the most part, people really don’t want to hear about my most inner thoughts and feeling. They’re not that interesting. Who wants to hear that I cried more when my dog Ipo died a month ago then I did for my father? I was told that’s because I have too many issues I have pushed aside and I should see a counselor. I don’t know about that.
But what I do know, while I miss my father and sister and my relatives, I am incredibly blessed this Christmas season. I have family and friends and health and a firm belief in God, though I don’t understand his ways, no one ever said we’re supposed to. I am still trying to stop worrying about the past, quit fretting over what the future may hold, and find joy in today. Easier said than done, but I’m getting there.
Living here helps.
I live in a place that I see more and more for its beauty and spirit. Don’t take Kauai for granted. I did, for years. Now, I marvel at this island and its people. I delight when I run and see sunset or a sunrise or whales beyond Ninini Point Lighthouse. I am thrilled when I run into people I have come to know. I have learned that life is better with people.
As the years past, our loved ones will pass away and we will face the holidays without them. It won’t be easy. But we can find joy in knowing that we knew them and loved them and hopefully, we gave them our best and received theirs in return.
That is a wonderful gift to have on Christmas day, and every day.
Bill Buley is the editor-in-chief of The Garden Island newspaper. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org