My father died last year, and as I navigate the stages of my grief, guilt has probably been the toughest one to handle. It’s been a year and a half, and the hurt isn’t as sharp as it used to be. I have more good days than bad ones lately, save for the occasional, intense sob session while scrolling through his Facebook page. But the guilt becomes worse when I realize that I don’t hate the way our family has changed. I’ve thought about this a lot, and even as I attempt to describe it to you all, my mind is also supplying all the reasons that it’s OK to look forward to the holidays at home, even if my dad won’t be there. Enjoying the peace of my family home doesn’t mean that I’m happy my dad isn’t part of that anymore. I definitely resented some of his ways and attitudes when he was around, and it makes perfect sense that I would still harbor some of those resentments now that he’s gone. His death didn’t absolve him of his worldview or the way he imposed it on his family at times.
Last year, I knew that our first Christmas without him would be rough. I wanted to shake up our usual Christmas day festivities (open presents, eat holiday lunch, go visit nearby relatives and eat their lunch, too), so I decided to get us some Victorian-style crackers. We sat at the table that morning with our coffee and were startled by how dang loud those things popped, and we really enjoyed sharing the jokes and gifts that were inside. And of course, I felt like the worst daughter in the world for introducing something so fun to our family on the first Christmas where our father couldn’t participate.
This year I’ve decided that I’m going to keep the Dickensian theme going and make a Christmas pudding (wish me luck), which should tickle the hell out of my very Southern, very American mom. Daddy liked old-school fruitcake, so I imagine that a pile of dried and fermented fruit and bread, dotted with beef suet and soaked in brandy, might not offend his sensibilities too much. His palate was adventurous in a way that mine is not—he loved lamb and oysters but hated hearts of palm, which is fully opposite of my own tastes. Regardless, we never refused to try anything that the other cooked.
I won’t be able to share this pudding with my dad, and I can’t be mad at anyone about that. It is what it is. I’m not a very religious person at all, and it’s most helpful for me to accept that he is gone and our lives must move on. I don’t believe that we’ll be reunited in an afterlife, though I fully understand why some people do. What a comforting thing to believe, right? There was always going to be a Christmas where Dad wouldn’t be here with us, and it doesn’t serve me to ache and long for the way things used to be. I’m here now, and I intend to be here now. My father will always be a part of my life, and continuing to live it does not disrespect his memory. How could it?
Daddy’s gone, and I still have Applebum family fish to fry. I have Applebum cousins who shamelessly cape for Kanye West because they think that celebrity worship will somehow make them rich by association. Other Applebums are hitting up family elders for shoe money while claiming it’s for bills. One cousin is finally substance-free and living on the farm where he works. Another cousin is claiming the entire family is against them because no one would keep their kids so they could go see Lil Boosie a few months ago. Most of this is not my business, and I will NOT be getting involved, but it’s fun to be old enough to get the scoop on family drama and judge it all from a distance. Daddy will be present in my heart when I slip the young ones a twenty or go take a walk with my cousins. I have to keep living, and I’m allowed to enjoy that living while it’s happening.
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