It’s Monday, Dec. 18, 2017.
I woke up early this morning and made the drive from my home in Woodstock, Virginia, to Monticello Memorial Park near Charlottesville. It’s a stunning cemetery that rests in the shadows of Thomas Jefferson’s similarly stunning home.
Here I sit, the sun rising and marching across a dry field of graves. I’m tap-tap-tapping these words onto my iPhone with tears filling my eyes like an unattended kitchen sink.
They’ll spill over, but I won’t care. Not this time.
Yes, at this special spot, cheeks tingling in the crisp Christmastime air, I’m crying in real time. The 30-year anniversary of a painful loss can do that to a fellow.
Still, there’s something different about these tears.
Pondering the three decades since the Dec. 18 that changed me and my family, I’m finally resurrecting a bit of truth. While all tears look the same, they fall with different names.
Today’s December tears aren’t just about grief. Sure, a few might be named and dedicated to missing the man who shaped me in many ways. But those tears are outnumbered today.
I’ve got tears of satisfaction at all I’ve learned since his passing. Rather than stop the journey, I’ve looked for opportunities to grow and improve, to polish away rough edges. There’s so much work to do, no doubt, but thank heaven I’m not still the boy who heard that last “goodbye.”
I’m crying tears of gratitude at how the years have taught me to better appreciate and honor the goodness of my mother. She’d be the first to say she’s not perfect. But I’d be the first to say she sure is trying.
I feel tears of loyalty, too. My siblings have been so fiercely loyal to me and to one another since that dark December night. I might not be alive today without them.
There are also tears of deep love for my own family. How blessed am I that for nearly 25 years my wife has caught and shared tears of every kind? She’s so lovely, so loyal, such a friend. She’ll be first in line to embrace Dad when the time comes and to swap stories of wild antics.
Other tears are named joy for my children — because that’s what they bring me. They make mistakes, they’ve made me gray, but they sure know how to love. My oldest will be married in five days in the Lord’s house — the Washington D.C. Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — and while his name won’t appear on a reception guestbook, I know my dad and many others on all branches of our family tree will likely be paying close attention.
But the tears that lead the way this morning ought to be named for the one we all worship. My Savior has been so good to me. He’s taught me, forgiven me, then forgiven me again. He’s given me scripture, prophets and apostles, talents and gifts, a gospel and a roadmap home.
Because of his birth, his ministry, his blood, his death, his Resurrection and his Restoration, I will one day cry another kind of tear when my father bursts the bands of death and rises again along with every single one of us.
An hour after arriving at the cemetery, the sun is sending the frost back to bed. I can stay, I can pray, I can cry a few more tears and remember a few more years.
Or, I can say goodbye, walk back to my car, and remind myself he’s not really here anyway.
And if he were? He’d say with a wise wink, “I love you. Now get back to work. You’ve got a book to write.”
I love you, Dad.
PS: If you have a friend feeling blue this holiday season, I hope you’ll share. Merry Christmas!