This week marks a 25-year milestone I never wished to celebrate. The date — Dec. 18 — means nothing to you. But to me, it’s the annual bookmark that reminds me another year has passed without my father.
It’s also a reminder that I haven't mourned my father very well.
If you’ve lost a loved one, particularly long before their time, you can relate. Seeing the date come and go is like the least favorite chapter in a book we’re required to re-read each year. We desperately want it to end differently, but we know it’s always the same.
In 2012, perhaps because the year has been unusually trying for my family and me, I’m spending more time than usual on those emotional pages. Or maybe I’m meandering more slowly past the milestone because I now see my oldest child at the age I was when my own father died.
Admittedly, for many of these 25 years, I’ve spent the days leading up to Dec. 18 thinking of all the things my father has missed since he said goodbye much earlier than the plot called for. I’ve thought of baby blessings, baptisms and ball games. I’ve considered the Christmas mornings with no gifts under the tree bearing his name on the tiny red and green tags.
I fear that when I should’ve been talking or praying my way through the sadness, I was often burying my feelings in thick emotional weeds. Maybe I hoped to suffocate them in the shadows, instead of pulling and replacing them with something less noxious.
I also fear I’ve also invested too many years thinking of my father as something lost, a gem misplaced in the world's most desolate desert. Can’t you see it? There I am, on my hands and knees, sifting through billions of grains of sand for just one more moment with the most valuable thing I’ve ever known.
I’m not afraid to admit that I've shed tears on every Dec. 18 since 1987. Some years the tears were just a few drops to remind me what the calendar said. Other years, especially when I was losing more days than I was winning, the tears pooled into something that could have drowned me, if not for the love and support of family and friends.
As I now straddle this quarter-century dividing line, I realize that I could have done much better. And with this thicker than usual anniversary bookmark, I see that it’s not too late.
For the last 25 years, I’ve pored over my father’s many accomplishments and few failures and marveled at both lists. I've been proud of achievements in church, work and family.
In the next 25, I will try to fixate less about how he lived his life and more about how I live mine.
For the last 25 years, I’ve told many stories of my father's greatest moments. If you’ve ever heard me speak at a church, school or community event, you may have heard stories about my father saving lives — literally and figuratively. He performed 500 years' worth of service miracles in just the 50 he lived on earth.
In the next 25, I will try to live more stories of my own.
For the last 25 years, I have wished that I’d had more of everything. I’ve wanted more years, more holidays, more lessons and more of his cartoon faces and corny jokes. I have regretted all of the opportunities I turned down to spend time at Dad’s side by choosing sleep, basketball with pals or movies I can’t even remember.
For the next 25, I will work hard to stop counting the moments I missed, and be grateful for the ones I had.
Since that cold December night in 1987, I have worried about living my life in ways that would guarantee I would see my father again. But in the years to come, I must mold that simple faith into real knowledge.
Perhaps like me, in moments of weakness with your faith running deficits, you have wondered privately and publicly why you couldn't have been granted more time with the greatest influences of your life.
You lost your spouse. Your child is gone. Your mother or father has slipped away.
But isn't the single greatest influence who ever lived on earth just as close as before our loved ones were called home? Certainly those we grieve were forces for good in the world, and we miss them touching our lives each day. But the perfect force, the holy one who actually defines the word "good," is still at our sides to mentor, love and guide us home to heaven for the reunions we long for.
Yes, it’s been 25 years since I was seconds too late to watch my father take the long step from this life to the next. But as the minutes of this milestone march by, I know that if my father were alive today, he would want me rooted not in his life, but in the soil of the Savior.
No, I didn't get to say goodbye to my dad. But I sure can't wait to say hello.
Jason F. Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of 10 books, including "Christmas Jars," "The Wednesday Letters" and "The 13th Day of Christmas." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or jasonfwright.com.