I was lucky this Christmas.  I watched my one year old son rip into his Christmas presents unencumbered by work.  In fact, this is the first year in the last five that I haven’t been called in for a holiday death call.

Today, though, is New Year’s Day.  My family is home right now watching the parade on TV.  We have two meals we’re supposed to attend later on in the day.  But I’m here at work awaiting the two families that are coming in to arrange funerals for their loved ones who died last night.

When I’m home for the holidays there’s this gnawing fear that at any moment I’ll be called in.  That at any moment Death will keep its schedule of inconvenience.   It’s not that I dislike work.  I am, by professional accounts, a workaholic.  It’s the reactions I get when I break the news to my family.  “Don’t go, Caleb”, says my wife, “find someone else to go.”

“Daddy, daddy, daddy” comes from my son.  Today is supposed to be special.  Instead, it’s a disappointment.  A huge disappointment.   It’s almost easier when I’m at work on the holidays.  Once I’m at work, I can’t disappoint anyone.  Once I’m at work, the expectations can’t go unmet.  I’ve already failed.

And as much as I want to complain.  As much as I want to make this all about me, I go to work, I see the grieving faces, I see the holidays that have been completely ruined, and I’m snapped out of my little perspective.  Today, I’m writing the obituary for the married father of three young children.  Cancer stole him from his kids.  At least I get to go home to my son.  This man’s three children will have a holiday that will ever haunt their memories.

I look into their empty faces.  Faces that see no future.  Only the present.  And the present is full of confusion, darkness and pain.  This is no holiday.  This is no day for celebration.

Damn you Death.  Seriously.  It’s almost as though you work the hardest on holidays.  That you save your best work for the special times of the year.  The suicides.  The night deaths.  The tragic demises.  It’s like you whisper in the ears of the dying, “Hold off.  Just hold off a couple more weeks.  The holidays are right around the corner.  The holidays.  Yes, the holidays!  Die on the holidays!”

And they listen to your whispers.  And the families who had plans to celebrate must now plan to mourn.  And what is meant for rest … what is meant for life … becomes a time that creates unrest as it all accentuates what’s missing … or rather who’s missing … from the family table, from the celebrations.

Do you know how many families’ holidays you ruin each year?  Do you enjoying having us huddled around the beds of the dying instead of the tables of celebration?  Are you jealous of us and all the life and living we do around the holidays?  Or, are you just trying to include yourself in our events?  Well, we don’t want you.  Stay away from us.  Let us live and enjoy each other for this short little time of the year.  Our lives are short.  Stop reminding us of mortality during these times we are allowed to really live.

I’ve come to fear the holidays because of you.  I fear the disappointed faces.  The empty seats at the dinner tables.

And to the living.  To those of you celebrating today.  If you are unencumbered by Death today. If Death hasn’t touched your holiday, then celebrate.  Embrace your loved ones and friends.  Tell them you love them.  Hold them.  Smile.  Enjoy the holidays.  Because the day will come when Death will demand his inclusion.  And you too may come to fear the holidays.

If Death has found a place at your holiday table, then rebel against him.  Raise your fist to him.  And show him that you can still live.  That you can still love.  That you can still smile.  That you can still be thankful.  Raise your glass to life and love.  Make Death jealous and live.

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