I am starting to write this post waiting for the clock to hit 4:45 so I can hit the road and drive home for Thanksgiving break. What I’m doing this year is strikingly similar to what I did 365 days ago. The only difference is one person. The only difference is the biggest difference there could ever be. My Dad. This will be my first Thanksgiving without his prominent presence that was the centerpiece of our family fun and laughter.
I drove home from Boone on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and prepared to leave for Florida the next morning with my mom, dad, sister, and two perfect little wiener dogs. It was a long, irritating drive down to Jensen Beach, Florida to visit my Dad’s sisters who live there. Dad yelled at my sister when we went to McDonalds and she got a frappe and couldn’t just get “a normal coffee.” He would get upset about little things like that and we were never sure why- regardless, it made for a funny family joke throughout our next year together. Little did we know, the hourglass of time as a family of four was running thin.
We stayed in Jensen Beach for four or five days and spent family time in the warm Floridian sunshine, went to DQ far too many times, and took family photos on the beach where my dad put a mini Santa hat, meant for a dog, on his bald head. To celebrate my Aunt’s birthday we went to a sports bar where the family got loud, per usual, and a little too drunk. We laughed so much that week. Something that sticks out to me, however, is that I mark Thanksgiving 2015 as being the time that everything started to go downhill. One of the last times I really got to be around my whole family where the conversation wasn’t solely centered around cancer. One of the last times everything was normal. I remember shoving my face with mashed potatoes, and after my Dad finished his plate, he was complaining about his stomach being in immense pain. It was beginning to become hard for him to eat any full meals without agony. It was also when my gut feelings arose that this wasn’t just some small intestinal blockage that doctors have seen hundreds of times… I knew it was more than that from the start. This was the last real time I saw my happy, sarcastic, and carefree father. My father as he was.
I drove home from Boone on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and prepared to leave for Florida the next morning with my mom, sister, and two perfect (now a little more frosty-faced) wiener dogs. Every time I come home now something else is sold or another room looks different in some way shape or form. It was a long, sad drive down to Jensen Beach, Florida to visit my Dad’s sisters, who live here. Mom in the driver’s seat and me in the passenger seat- a new found place that is gaining normalcy for me on family trips now. There was nobody to huff and puff about a lasting cough my sister cannot seem to shake and there certainly isn’t anyone to deep fry the turkey this year, next year, or the years to come. I’ve come to the conclusion and understanding holidays are going to sting for many, many years. That the hole in my heart won’t be able to be filled or patched up until I have a family of my own someday. Moving forward holidays will be filled of memories, mourning, and a missing piece to our DeJong puzzle. A puzzle piece that makes the whole picture come together and make sense.
To my family
I am thankful for you. Here we all are on a long journey to try and find purpose with the cards we have been dealt. Our souls are linked together, not only by blood, but for the love we share for Eric DeJong. He lives in each one of us figuratively, and quite literally, by genetics- and that is something to be thankful for.
To my friends
I am thankful for you. I truly do not know if I would’ve been able to get through this past year of tragedy and hardship if I wasn’t wrapped in a cocoon of love and support. Each of you, no matter your role, helped me get up in the morning and face the days- as you still do. Thank you for allowing me to pull you each a little closer and for not hesitating to be by my side while wrapped up in my chaotic world. For those who came out of the woods, and for those who still check in on me, it doesn’t go unnoticed- thank you. I will never be able to repay you. I appreciate you to the greatest depths of my being.
To those who have a missing seat
We are a part of a club nobody wants to be in. I am sending love from my empty seat to your’s this Thanksgiving and for all the holidays to come.
All I ask is that if you stuck around to read this, to truly look around your Thanksgiving table today and take your mental pictures, take real pictures, and take in the moment. A year from this day you never know who could be missing from your family table. Life is so unpredictable, so please use me as an example. Tragedy doesn’t discriminate. Breathe and hug your circle tight, eat great food, and live for those around you in these important moments. We live for the ones we love and there truly is no greater purpose for our lives. I am thankful this Thanksgiving because I still have so much to live for and celebrate. Happy Thanksgiving. I love you Dad. I love you Zafer.