It’s really hard to think of a present you’d like to have on Christmas when all you want is your Dad to come back.
2014 marked my second Christmas without Dad. My second Christmas without seeing his smile as he opened gifts. My second Christmas without watching him laugh at A Christmas Story over and over and over again. My second Christmas without him snoring loudly as he napped on the couch after eating entirely too much holiday food. My second Christmas without the sound of his laughter, the presence of his joy, and the love of his heart.
I fought desperately (and still do) to hang onto those memories of Christmases now gone. On the surface, the holiday season looked the same. The Christmas trees, the lights, the presents, the cookies, and the family get-togethers. But Christmas now felt different. The feelings of joy and anticipation had given way to the pangs of loss, regret, and overwhelming sadness. All the emotions I had once felt around Christmas were so clouded by loss that it was nearly impossible to enjoy any part of the season. I thought a second year in the rotation might take off some of the rawness of the pain, but in actuality, it didn’t. It still hurt, and the pain still ran just as deep.
There was a guilt in time progressing, in life moving on. How could I just continue to exist without my Dad? How could I just continue celebrating Christmas after Christmas without him? It didn’t feel right, but I also didn’t know what other option I had. Christmas was going to come whether I wanted it to or not. Man is in an eternal fight against time, and I was on the front lines.
I couldn’t stop these thoughts from racing through my mind as I created my makeshift bed in the family room of my parents’ home. Our yearly tradition of a Christmas Eve celebration with my Mom’s side of the family had just concluded, and I was settling in for the night in the family room where I last saw my Dad alive. Even though I had bought my own house, I had made it my tradition of staying with my parents on Christmas Eve so we could all wake up under the same roof for Christmas morning. If anything, Dad’s death had made me want to do this even more, to hold on to some sense of tradition and normalcy as much as I could.
As I was laying out the sheets and pillows on the couch, Mom made her way down the staircase with a wrapped package. As an only child with a devilish smile, I had often been able to convince my parents to let me open just one present the day before Christmas. Even into semi-adulthood, I had still been able to work my magic to get at least one gift the day before. But since Dad had died, there wasn’t the same fun or eagerness in opening gifts.
Seeing her come down the stairs with that package made me remember so many unique gifts that my Mom and Dad gave me over the years. There was the year when they bought me a Fischer Price castle playset with action figure knights and boulder slingshots and a working drawbridge, which became the breeding ground for countless hours of imagination as a child. Another year, my parents bought me a wonderful art desk with a revolving marker and crayon stand, and a bottom-lit desk surface for tracing. I felt like a real cartoonist when I sat at that desk! Against Mom’s better wishes, I’m sure, there was the year that Dad bought me a dirtbike. Although I never got very good at riding it, there was something about being a kid and getting a motorcycle on Christmas morning that made me feel really, really cool. And now, I sit and think back to all those wonderful gifts and want nothing more than to have the gift of my Dad back on Christmas.
I could tell from the look on Mom’s face that this gift would be a little different from the hundreds of toys I had probably received as a child. As she came down the steps with the package, I noticed she had been crying. Unfortunately, this wasn’t much of an anomaly in our home around Christmas, for either one of us. We cried at Christmas, sometimes together and sometimes alone. There was no getting around it.
“Ty,” she said, “I’d like for you to go ahead and open this gift tonight.”
She laid it on my lap, and the child inside me from years gone by couldn’t resist the temptation to guess what was underneath the wrapping. “It feels soft, and definitely feels like clothing,” the inner child said to me. Much too big to be socks, thankfully.
In the soft glow of the Christmas lights strung across our mantle, I unwrapped what has since become my favorite Christmas gift I’ve ever received.
As I pulled back the paper, I immediately recognized one of my Dad’s old t-shirts. I began to cry before even realizing what the gift actually was. Suddenly, I realized that what I thought might have been a jacket or a coat was a quilt—but not just any quilt.
What lay in my lap was a quilt made up entirely of my Dad’s old clothing.
Fighting through tears and a complete loss of words, I threw the paper to the side and cleared out room on the floor. I spread the quilt out across the floor of our family room, admiring an item that was more valuable than any treasure I could ever receive. Mom had found someone who lived in our local community who had made the quilt–a strong Christian woman who took the time to learn about my Dad, pray over his clothing, and create a beautiful keepsake that would allow me to hold onto him forever.
There was the Carhart t-shirt I had seen him in so many times. Always the working man, I had grown used to seeing my Dad in Carhart clothing, especially coveralls, any time he was working around the house. Seeing that shirt again reminded me of his strong and calloused hands, often darkened and dirty from a project around the house. It took me back to those moments instantly.
Then, I spotted a patch made of his softball pants and the stitched name and number (always 11 for symmetry) from the letterman’s jacket of our church team. Dad was a tremendous athlete. Known as “Scooter” since before I was born, Dad was always fast—real fast. I loved watching him play softball, and when I saw that patch, my mind immediately went back to the familiar smells and sounds of a softball field, watching my Dad scoot around the bases as I cheered from a splintered wooden bench behind home plate.
I noticed his dark blue coveralls from Matandy Steel, the job where he worked for what was nearly the last decade of his life. So many times, I had seen Dad come home weary and exhausted from a long day at work, his hands and face smudged with grease from the machines he worked on all day. But my Dad loved his job, and he loved working, and I always associate those coveralls with pride and loyalty. My Dad was proud of his work, and we were all proud of the work he did.
My eyes drifted over to a green shirt with a soccer ball on it in the upper left corner, and I flashbacked to my short-lived career as a youth soccer star participant. Dad had coached my team—the Green Machine—in a local YMCA league. I saw the shirt, and remembered him running up and down the sidelines, yelling out instructions. I remembered his perfectly drawn out substitution sheets, which I eventually replicated when I started coaching. I remembered the smiles on the faces of all my teammates who, like so many other children, were drawn to my Dad’s goofy sense of humor. He didn’t know much about soccer, but there was never a better coach.
Then I noticed the shirts from Gulf Shores, Alabama (our family’s vacation spot) along with the red “Lifeguard” swim trunks he had worn on so many wonderfully sunny beach days. Dad loved going to the beach, and I loved going there with him. Our days were never boring at the beach. We would lounge in the sand and eat snacks. We would swim deep out into the ocean and see how far we could go before Mom would start freaking out. With our gloves always in tow, we would toss a baseball back and forth for hours as the sun baked on our shoulders. From early in the morning until the sun deemed our day done, we relished those moments together near the water. They were the happiest of times.
There were the Hamilton Joes t-shirts he had worn to all the games that I announced. I am confident that I am one of only a few sports broadcasters at any level whose parents attended nearly any event I announced. I saw those shirts, and I immediately flashed back to the countless times I had looked out from the press box window and saw my Dad completely at peace in the stands of a baseball game—watching the players, talking to his friends, and listening to his son. I loved having him there.
The UFC shirt I had made fun of him for wearing so many times after being completely dumbfounded regarding his fascination with the “sport”. The “Miami Dad” shirt I had bought him a few Christmases ago when I was an undergrad. The Cincinnati Reds t-shirt he had worn to so many games we attended together. They were all there. Everything I had remembered my Dad wearing was stitched together in front of me in a beautiful testament to the life he lived here on Earth. To anyone who didn’t know my Dad, it would tell them all about him. And to those of us who knew him, it brought out the best of his memory.
I cried. And I thanked my Mom. And I hugged her. And I told her how much I missed Dad. The flood of emotions I had been trying to hold back that entire day suddenly burst forth when I realized that wrapping myself in this quilt would be as close as I would ever get to hugging my Dad on this side of Eternity.
And that’s exactly what I do. When I miss my Dad, I wrap myself in that quilt. I wrap myself in the lifetime of wonderful memories he gave to me. I wrap myself in the knowledge that I will see him again someday, and that we will celebrate many more Christmases together. My Dad gave me so many great gifts while he was here with me, but I am so thankful that he gave me a Christ-like model of fatherhood—one where joy, humility, and unconditional love always prevails.
This quilt was a gift from my Mom, but I know that it was a gift from my Dad, too. I can feel his presence in every stitch. I can hear his laughter when I look at the patches. I can see his face and hear his voice every time I’m near it. A great quilt is nothing without a story to go behind it, and this one has a story I’ll tell for years and years to come.
Maybe you’re reading this blog having just lost a Dad or a Mom or a loved one. Maybe you’re reading this blog in the midst of unmistakable tragedy. Or maybe you’re reading these words years down the road from a loss but still reeling from the heart wrenching loss that feels as if it will never end. Maybe for a variety of reasons, you find yourself alone on this Christmas, and you can’t help but feel as if no one understands your desperation. If that’s you, I have a simple message.
God gives us quilts. For me, it was a quilt, but for you it might be something else. A photo. A family keepsake. A bottle of cologne or candle that reminds you of the person you miss. I don’t know what it will be, and I don’t know when you’ll receive it; but I do know that when we hurt, God’s heart hurts as well. And as a loving God, I know He will find ways to ease your pain.
I find so much comfort in the words of Psalm 139:13. “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb” (NLT). If our God has known you so intricately and for so long, we have to believe that He knows exactly what we need in our deepest moments of hurt. And we also must believe enough in His promises that what we need will be provided.
Maybe it will be this Christmas, or maybe it will be months down the road, but I pray that you receive your quilt, and I pray that you receive the comfort that comes with it. Pray to God that He gives you your quilt, and believe, deep down, that He can provide.
And God gives us people who know we need a quilt. God uses His people to do extraordinary things, and he always positions them in our lives for the moments where we might need each other most. I didn’t ask for a quilt—mainly because I didn’t know I needed one. But God knew I needed one, and put the idea in my Mother’s heart to have one made for me.
This Christmas, I’m thankful that my God has put a mission in my Mom’s heart—a mission to help preserve the memory of her husband, my father. When it comes to gifts that honor my Dad, my Mom is an all-star. She thinks of ways to honor him that I never would. I’m confident that God has been developing that type of attitude in her throughout her entire life, knowing that our family would face a storm unlike any other.
I don’t know who will give you your quilt, but I’m confident that if you open your heart to grace and community and fellowship, God will give you an army of people who will help you walk through the wind and rain of life’s storms. He’s given it to me, even at times when I didn’t deserve it—and no matter how far I might stray from him at times, I rest easy knowing He will always be putting “quilt-givers” in my life to pick me up when I fall.
History records the day when the White House was attacked by the British in 1814. As the home of our nation’s most powerful executive burned to the ground, First Lady Dolley Madison grabbed the official portrait of our first President, George Washington, in an effort to preserve our national history. She escaped from the flames with the portrait intact, and made her way to safety.
Although I never want my house to burn down, I’ve already made up my mind about what I would grab on my way out, and it’s not a presidential portrait (Sorry, George).
The quilt my Mom gave me on that Christmas Eve is my most cherished family heirloom. For generations, that quilt will be able to tell the story of a man my children and grandchildren will never have the gift of knowing on this Earth. But more than that, it’s a reminder to me of the tremendous life I spent with my Dad for 26 years. Now, on Christmas Eve, I have a new tradition, and even though it’s not the one I want, it’s the one I will settle for until better days. On Christmas Eve, on that same couch where I said goodbye to my Dad, I wrap myself in his quilt, and it’s like he’s still there with me in some way. A quilt provides comfort, and so does a loving Father—and I’m thankful that I have both wrapped up together in the warmest of memories.
Dad, I would love for you to see this quilt, but I would give anything to see you wearing the clothes that make up the patches again. You would be so proud of Mom for finding such a wonderful way to honor your memory. When times get tough, I grab that quilt and think about you. I press my face against your work uniform, and remember how those patches used to feel on my face when I’d hug you as you came home from work as a child. I remember how sweaty those softball uniforms used to get after you had played a game on a hot summer night. I remember all the days we lounged together on the shores in Alabama, and how we all felt closer to God and each other being close to the ocean. I long for those days—and I know we will have them again, only better. My quilt only has meaning because of the meaning you gave to our lives when you were here. That quilt tells a story because you made life so special, each and every day. And although it will be sad to go through yet another Christmas without you to provide the fun and laughter, I feel you watching over us each and every year. Until our first Christmas together again, seeya Bub.
“And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19 (NLT)