(Not) Home for the holidays

“So, any funs plans for Christmas?”

It’s a question I’m tired of answering, but equally guilty of asking.

The majority of us will take time off, gorge on food, spend time with family and friends, travel or get some much needed R&R.

For the rest, they’ll kiss their families goodbye and head into work.

Retail stores will close. Fitness centres will be dark. The malls will be empty. But the doors of our hospitals, after-hours clinics and emergency facilities and services will stay open for business.

Our first responders are on the clock 24/7. They give us their holidays, their kids’ birthdays, anniversaries, and weekends so our communities stay safe, our services go uninterrupted and we have access to the care we need regardless of the date on the calendar.

On Christmas morning as you open presents with family, there will inevitably be a nurse coming in for work, having snuck out of her house before her kids woke up to make it time for her shift. She’ll miss the joy of seeing her boys open presents and her mom’s world-famous turkey stuffing.

She’ll relieve one of her colleagues who spent all evening consoling family members whose loved one unexpectedly passed away – one of his patients. He’ll fight exhaustion and attempt to focus on his own family instead of the one he empathizes with who is grieving the member they lost.

While we bask in the post-present glow, sipping a Bailey’s and hot chocolate in our PJs, our paramedics will miss the joy of catching up with family while they tend to an accident scene that will change the course of another family’s life forever.

As we drive to our Christmas dinner, a police car will scream by on route to a call. It’s the officer’s first Christmas as a father but he’ll miss making memories with his baby because he’s made the choice to serve the people of his community, the community he takes so much pride in.

We’ll sit down to a full feast surrounded by people we love just as an on-call physician excuses herself from her own family traditions to assist with a patient who’s taken a turn for the worse.

These examples are only a few of those who give us so much not just over the holidays, but every day of the year. There are so many others who are equally pivotal to ensuring our services run smoothly: the housekeeping and food services at local hospitals, dispatch, organ donation coordination teams – the list goes on.

For these folks, they’re not raking in millions or getting special acknowledgement because they’re working on a holiday – they’re doing it because they genuinely want to help.

Most of us won’t need emergency health-care services, the help of firefighters or protection of police, to name a few, over the holidays. But for those who do, they will be there.

Please take a moment to think of those who give up time with their loved ones so we can continue to create positive, healthy memories with our own families on Christmas – and every day of the year.

Merry Christmas to all!

What I really want for Christmas

Lately, I’ve been caught up in the whole commercialized Christmas, which has been a big change for me. It’s been a few years since I’ve actually felt like celebrating the holiday. It all started four years ago when my Dad passed. Since then, I’d been unable to get out of my Grinch-like funk.
 
The first year he was gone, the Christmas tree I had was taken down before December 25 even arrived. I felt so guilty celebrating when my Dad would never see another Christmas again. 
 
The following year, I convinced myself I didn’t need a tree and the year after that, I only put one up because my ex and I were hosting my family for dinner and my sister insisted we have a tree.
 
This year I allowed myself to get caught up in the magic I once believed actually existed around Christmas – the lights, the big, beautiful tree, the ornaments, the presents, the Christmas outings – I even caught myself singing that hideously addictive yet horribly annoying All I want for Christmas song. Thanks Mariah.

For the first time in a long time, it almost felt like it had growing up. Magical. Perfect.

Then today when I heard Joe Cocker died, all of the Christmas excitement and joy I felt immediately dissipated and I missed my Dad. A lot.
 
The grief I’d managed to bury for so long came back like a tsunami and I was completely overwhelmed, so much so that I actually felt like a beach ball had inflated in my throat and for a few moments, I couldn’t catch my breath. Tears spilled down my cheeks and I felt as though I were literally drowning.
 
My Dad always told me how when I was a baby and couldn’t sleep, he’d play ‘our’ song, sing it softly to me and rock me back to sleep. “Worked like a charm every time, babes.” I can almost hear him saying it.
 
My handsome Dad as a young police cadet at Christmas.

Even up until he passed when I was 24, he’d occasionally call me and leave me a voicemail when he’d heard ‘you are so beautiful’ on the radio. His voice would be cracking without fail every time, as though he had just relived a precious memory. I suppose in many ways, he had.

 
I’ve not listened to the song for years – I just couldn’t. By the time the first few piano notes were played, I’d be hysterical, frantically trying to catch my breath and all the while wishing my Dad were singing it to me. I know he never will again.
 
Foolishly, I looked the song up on YouTube after I read the news, which only made me more emotional. The song still had the same effect – it made me sad (read: I bawled my frickin’ eyes out) – I just miss my Dad terribly.

The Christmas joy I finally found has been weighted down by the fact that I know the one thing I want more than anything, I will never again have – time with my Dad.
 
That’s not to say I’m not grateful or appreciative for what’s to come this Christmas – I’m in a great relationship, I’m living in a city I’ve always dreamed of being in and I’m on the ice again. I have my health, I have my family, I have my friends. But all of that does little to comfort me today.  

It’s been four years yet it feels like yesterday in many ways – the idiotic move of playing that song reaffirmed to me I’m far from “over” losing him.
 
While I’d give anything and everything under my tree to have just a few more moments with him, I know he’d be upset with me for not appreciating what I do have, even if he can’t physically be here to share it with me.
 
So, I’ll try my best to think positively, be grateful and take comfort in the memories we did have – they’re more valuable to me than anything on my wish list. 

And, if I need to cry, I’ll give myself permission to. It’s not all bad, I suppose – my cheeks get a little rosy after a good sob fest and who couldn’t use a little extra colour this gloomy time of year?
How do you cope with grief during the holidays?
 

Letter To Dad

Dear Dad,
Today marks our third Father’s Day without you. Three isn’t a big number, but it’s the days in between those years that have been long.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been bombarded with ads for the perfect gift: a tool set from a hardware store, a particular golf club to help you improve your swing, a pair of pants to improve your style. (For the record, you were always the nicest dressed man I knew.)
The painful absence of your loss has made me realize there’s only one gift that matters and it’s something you can’t buy at a hardware store – the gift of more time.
While you’ve given the gift of time to three other men through your donation, it doesn’t change the fact that I’d give up a lot of things just to have you back for a few moments.  
That being said, I’ve made it a priority to not be regretful for the time we didn’t have, but be appreciative for what we did. In the 24 years I had you in my life, I remember you saying countless times “not every little kid/teen/girl has what you do.”
The older I get and the more people I meet, I realize how true this statement is. Not everyone was able to participate in a sport each year that cost the equivalent of a new vehicle. Not everyone had the opportunity to go on family vacations, sometimes more than once a year. Not everyone was fortunate to have a relationship with their Dad like I had with you.
Just because your accident took you away from us doesn’t mean that our memories are gone, too.
I still remember you coming home from work and opening your arms for a famous bear hug. No matter how bad your day was, you always made us feel like we were the most important part. When I think about it hard enough, I can still smell your cologne and feel your arms around me.
As a child, I learned from you – how to sing AC/DC before I could recite the alphabet, how to give cheeky replies, and how to get exactly what I wanted with a simple “pretty please”. (You never could say no…)
As an adult, I learned to appreciate you both as a father and as a friend. Through your mistakes, you taught me the importance of accountability and forgiveness. 
I credit you entirely for my addiction to chocolate, teaching me to speak my mind even when sometimes I shouldn’t, my love of classic rock, and my inappropriate off-colour sense of humour.
You taught me not to settle and to always strive for what I deserved – in love, in work, in school, in life. Your untimely passing reminds me every day about how short life can be and I’m trying not to take anything for granted.
I hope you know how much you meant to me – to all of us – and that you’re desperately missed every moment of every day. While I’m slightly envious of all of the girls and women who get to spend time with their dads today, I know that there are people who are just envious of me and the incredible memories I have.  
I hope you’re as proud of us as we are of you. The four of us continue to keep your legacy alive, while diligently – albeit slowly – building our own. How great will ours be? Well, you never can tell with bees.
Happy Father’s Day, Daddy.

Back To The Basics: Father’s Day

This time of year is bittersweet for my siblings and I.
After losing our Dad three years ago, Father’s Day has become somewhat of a sad holiday instead of one we looked forward to. Dad loved spending time with us on Father’s Day, even if it meant just sitting in his backyard with a couple of beers and reciting lines from Ace Ventura.
The ‘first’ Father’s Day was hard, the second was a little less painful. I’m sure this one will be a little less again, but it’ll never reach a point where it passes and I don’t feel a twinge in my heart.
The first year he was gone, I chose to run in a Father’s Day race in support of prostate cancer research. Two years before, my father-in-law had been diagnosed with – and beat – the disease so I was motivated to support the cause that had given us more time with him in hopes of helping others. Plus, running helped expend the energy I would have inevitably spent crying balled up on the couch feeling sorry for myself.
At the race, I was envious of the girls young and old who were either running with their Dads or finished the race with an embrace as their proud Pops waited at the finish line. I distinctly remember watching a girl a few years older than I speed towards the finish line and into the arms of her Dad. With tears in his eyes, he kissed her cheek and thanked her. The back of her shirt said he was a survivor of the disease. I was sure this was a moment they’d remember forever.
My father-in-law remarked how proud he was I had taken the time to run in the race in his honour and raise awareness for the disease. I didn’t buy him anything that year – I had simply given my time to do something meaningful for him.
Apparently the gift of time is no longer good enough.
I heard an ad on the radio this morning, targeted at kids, that said something along the lines of ‘Dad doesn’t want a hug this year, he wants power tools.’ What?
When did Father’s Day become a commercialized, materialistic event? What happened to making Dad his favourite breakfast or taking him mini putting? Perhaps I notice it more because I don’t have the option to spend more time with my father or buy him something he probably didn’t need in the first place. In any event, are we getting carried away?
I used to think Valentine’s Day was the most commercialized holiday but over the past few years, I’ve noticed retailers are putting pressure on us to buy the perfect gift– a day at the spa to give Mom a break on Mother’s Day, an iPad for Grandma and Grandpa at Christmas so they can share those special moments with their grandkids, a new truck for your husband so he can look tough on his way to work while he sits in traffic.
People complain about commercialized holidays and retailers marking up the prices of certain items associated with those days. (Think: a bouquet of red roses on Valentine’s Day, which mysteriously seem to rise in price a few weeks before February 14. Is there an annual shortage I’m not aware of?) Retailers can get away with it because we continue to buy into it.
By participating in this cycle, we place more and more value on the things we buy people instead of the time we spend with them. Granted, I suppose there are people who would rather send their Dad a gift card in the mail instead of actually sitting in the same room with them, but for those who have relationships with their father, why do they need to feel pressure to find the perfect present?
The meaning of Father’s Day is to celebrate fatherhood and their contribution to their families, not provide them with absent-minded gifts.
A pair of Chaps from The Bay doesn’t scream ‘I appreciate you, Dad’; spending time with him and recounting a family trip or making him his favourite meal does.
So, here’s my proposition: while I’m sure your Dad would appreciate a shiny new power tool or a round of golf, chances are he’d rather spend the time with you.
If you insist on buying him something, get him something you can do together – take him for dinner, or if you’re budget-conscious, make him dinner. Show up with a board game or action movie and a few beers, or take him golfing instead of sending him out on his own.
The memories you make will far outlast the warranty on a circular saw.