Happy Holidays from Indiana Wonderer-land! Did you have yourself a merry little Christmas, or whichever holiday you and yours celebrate this time of year? I’m happy to say we had a successful, joyful Christmas today (though our poor living room is still buried beneath toys and wrapping paper).
Even so, Christmas for us this year has felt off from the start. Oh, sure, Thanksgiving was a week later than usual. That made the shopping season shorter, the deadline for sending Christmas cards tighter. But beyond all the usual commercialism and social obligations, this season was off because it was missing something. Someone, to be more specific.
My father-in-law, Terry.
For those of you close to our family, you know that Terry lost his heroic fight with cancer the day after Thanksgiving. Never has the term “Black Friday” been more apropos. And so while the world around us geared up for one of the grandest holiday seasons, our family struggled to breathe in and breathe out. To get up and get dressed, to go into work or off to school.
To simply be.
We knew from the moment in January when the words “tumors” and “terminal” entered our conversations for the first time that Terry’s days with us were numbered. More precious than ever before. As month after month of chemo treatments passed, we watched him savor each day not with a grim, ‘why me’ outlook, but one with renewed faith and tenacity, no matter the pain he was in (always downplaying for everyone else’s sake) or the growing reality that no, he wouldn’t live to see his grandsons’ next soccer season or his granddaughter’s first day of Kindergarten. Sure, if you watched him closely, you could see a certain sadness flicker in his eyes from time to time. But it was always quickly replaced with a broad smile and renewed fascination with whatever was happening at the moment.
He was drinking it all in—every day, every hour, every minute.
When Terry passed, it was with his wife and children by his side. Three people who are the wonderful, caring, compassionate, and tenacious individuals they are today because of him. Terry loved life, he loved people. He could bull shit with the best of ‘em—loved to claim it was his own panache—was a joker for the ages. (I learned early on that if he wasn’t teasing you, he didn’t like you. Thankfully, he teased me relentlessly these past 23 years.)
At the viewing on the day before his funeral, I was amazed and in awe at the number of people who came to pay their respects—especially those he had worked with. People he had seen daily, at his best and sometimes at his worst (as goes the life of a professional in the medical field), and how truly sorry they were to see him go. How life in the O.R. just wasn’t going to be the same anymore. How life for any of us would never be the same.
But life not being the same and life not going on are certainly not synonymous. He would never have wanted anyone to feel that way. In fact, he’d probably reach down from his seat at that great poker table in the sky and smack the bejeezus right out of any of us if we did.
While it’s been hard to come to terms with all that’s transpired this past year, I know that everything happens for a reason. All who live must die, but no one has to die in vain. I truly believe that for Terry, that is certainly not the case.
Have you ever thrown a rock into a pond and watched as the water rippled, radiating out in all directions for what seemed like an eternity? Well, Terry was our rock. Our strong, dependable (and oftentimes stubborn) leader. And anywhere he landed, it was inevitable that his presence would touch the lives of those around him. Lifted them up when they needed to be lifted, consoled them when they needed to be consoled, loved them when all they needed was to be loved.
Why am I choosing Christmas evening to write this particular post? As the writers among us may know all too well, it’s for one simple reason: I didn’t have a choice. You see, when you dive into writing, and I mean really dive in and open that information super highway between brain and fingertips, there are some stories, some truths, that insist on coming out. They’ll crawl to the surface, throwing up roadblocks and barricades in front of all other thoughts and ideas, until at last they get their moment on screen, on paper, on air. Fragments of this post have been scratching at my subconscious for weeks, so today I’m caving in and giving them the moment they more than deserve.
As the rock casts unending ripples in a pond, so did Terry’s life forever impact us all. My prayer tonight is that we all may be like him, a rock to someone in need. May we soak up each moment with our friends and loved ones like there’s nothing on this planet we’d rather do. May we live life to its fullest, no matter the pain, the forecast, the diagnosis.
And most of all, may we do it all with our own bit of panache.