by Courtney Ehler
Christmas was always a bright, nostalgic time for my immediate family. It was a time of togetherness to enjoy simple pleasures of family tradition. We kept things predictable, which was half the charm. Dad would always put up the Christmas tree, mom always dressed the turkey, and the kids would help out respectively. We lounged around and watched movies, “caught up” with each other, and joked around.
My immediate family consisted of my parents, two older brothers, and myself. As my brothers and I grew and went off to college to start new lives, we continued to maintain the tradition of coming back home for Christmas. I looked forward to it. I counted on Christmas with the family. It was always there before, and as a young adult, continued to believe it would always be together.
That togetherness was broken in 2006; the year my dad decided to take his own life. It was, as for many other people, a shock to us and the community. Even coming from a faithful Christian background, none of us really knew how to handle the situation. As you can imagine, I was distraught and caught off balance. I didn’t know what to think. I always thought of my father as the “rock” in our family. Standing at just over six feet tall, he was physically strong, and before his mental deterioration, mentally fit and an old-fashion hard worker. He was the perfect person to lean on during rough times and offer advice. Now who was I suppose to lean on?
Probably one of the best things that helped me during this period was attending school at Texas Tech. With over a five hour drive from my home town, the terrain turned from beautiful Texas Hill country, to a flat Texan desert. I was in my early 20s and used distraction as my first line of defense from dealing with my father’s death. I found that whatever didn’t remind me of my dad was a plus, because it was too painful to deal with immediately. Instead, I found more relief in turning my attentions to books, organizations, and hobbies. I had supportive friends, but I rarely talked about what had happened. In fact, I can recall only two friends knowing the details of my father’s death. I was in a bit of an emotional void and tried to keep relatively numb. I remember thinking to myself “yeah, this isn’t so bad” or “I think I’m handling this pretty good”, which may have been true for the time being, however, I was only to find out the hard way how I was covering up a long-lasting wound.
That same year we had Christmas, and for the first time in a very long time, it was spent away from home. My mom decided to take my brothers, myself, and a couple of significant others on a cruise trip for the Christmas break. It was odd to say the least. I’ve never had Christmas on a boat or without presents, but most importantly without my dad. We spent the time continuing not to acknowledge the elephant in the room.
Today I view things differently. While the holidays are harder than other days, I embrace the change and try to fill that previous empty void with love from my friends and family. It’s easier said than done, but it’s been over five years and I can comfortably say I’m in a much better emotional state. I continue to view life as a constant learning lesson and, even though I still long for my dad’s presence, I know what has happened to him has only made me stronger today. The memories will never be forgotten and that same love is still present today. I plan to share that love my dad had for me with people present in my life and in future relationships.
About the Author: Courtney Ehler is an RN who is currently working in the San Antonio area with a focus on critical care. She graduated from Texas Tech University Health Science Center in 2009 and plans to further her education in the nursing field. Her hobbies include riding her multiple bikes, playing music, road trips, and cooking. Courtney has recently been engaged and enjoys spending time sharing similar interests with her fiancé. Courtney is Peggy Sweeney’s niece.