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My First Fourth of July Without My Dad

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The Fourth of July was a big deal growing up in our house. It meant time spent with my family, participating in traditions and creating new memories.

When it came to traditions, the Fourth of July ranked right next to Christmas for our family. The day was filled with activities from morning until night, and we would cram as much fun as possible into the holiday. And let’s not forget the good food, even better drinks and family fun.

Our holiday always concluded with my dad and uncle proudly displaying the fireworks they purchased. It was a sight worthy enough for the entire block to grab their lawn chairs and watch the show. This was our tradition for many years, giving our family enough stories to write a book. 

But this will be my first Fourth of July without my dad. Five months ago, I watched my father die after a long, courageous battle with Stage IV base of the tongue cancer. He spent four years unable to eat a morsel of food or drink an ounce of liquid.

During the past four Fourth of July celebrations, he was unable to fully attend family barbecues and do all the things our family loved doing. 

Many times, I would tell him he needed to at least try to come. I would tell him he needed a little fresh air and he was probably just depressed. I’m ashamed those words ever came out of my mouth. Back then, I had nothing but good intentions, but looking back at those words, I realize now they were so hurtful and totally inaccurate. Of course, he wanted to attend, but his sickness prevented him from doing so.

My father loved the Fourth of July. He was a proud American who served his country during the Vietnam era while stationed in the United States. He often reminisced about his Army days. Right up until the day of his passing, he reminded me to call the U.S. Army and get the footstone for his grave.

He would often tell me, “I earned that footstone, don’t forget!” We did get his footstone, and my father had a full military burial complete with taps.

Adjusting to a world without him unnerves me in unpredictable ways. Yesterday, as I was doing marathon shopping at ShopRite, I came face to face with their Fourth of July display. I stood there, staring at it for a moment. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks — my dad wasn’t coming to our party this year. There will be no wishing that he is having a good day so he could trek to my house with all his medical paraphernalia. There will be no need to me make sure our guest bedroom was tidy in case Dad needed to rest. How could that be? Just last year Dad was at my house, sitting in my living room and cracking jokes with everyone. I remember watching him and thinking to myself, “Yes! This is how it’s supposed to be! My dad is having a good day. Thank you, God!”

What once was a time of family and togetherness is now a time when my emotions are running high as I’m navigating the loss of my father. My feeling of loss is more prominent than ever as I prepare to celebrate without my dad, the man who proudly served his country and loved this holiday. 

Last year was my dad’s last Fourth of July. Let me repeat that: Last year was my father’s last Fourth of July on this earth. He spent that day at my house, where I made sure I hugged him and told him how much I loved him. In the midst of the hustle and bustle, I remember my father hugging me tight and telling me, “I will always love you. You will always be my baby.”  

When I watch the spectacular firework display this year, I know I’ll shed a tear, but I’ll also look up and thank my dad for giving me a lifetime of precious memories to hold in my heart.

Follow this journey on Love Is Infinite.

Originally published: June 30, 2016
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