Stepping Stones

I’m trying really hard to not be bitter but I’m only human. With the upcoming holidays literally harassing me every place outside of my bedroom, I’m filled with equal amounts of excitement and anxiety. 

This is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year but what if it is god awful? I’m starting to feel like I’m walking a tightrope except if you know me, I have no balance whatsoever and trying to figure out how to carry this weight is increasingly difficult. 

Every year, the second weekend of December, both sides of my family get together to pick out our Christmas trees. All twenty-two or so of us meet for breakfast at 8 am. We take up about half the diner and have two waitresses. Since my family is full of December birthdays, it usually falls on my Dad’s, my brother’s, my cousin’s, or my own, and we celebrate that with a candle-topped blueberry muffin. 

It is the greatest day of the year. It is my favorite day of the year. It’s also my Dad’s. He sneaks the bill every time and pays for the entire check. He simply wants everybody to be together without any worries.

We eat as many pancakes as our hearts desire– Uncle Kevin orders tomato juice and all of my little cousins order hot chocolate. We moved diners about three times over the years as places closed and changed, but we always ended up at the same Christmas tree farm about 20 minutes away. We’d all switch out siblings for the rides there, squish our bundled up selves on a tractor headed for the evergreens– Blue Spruces, specifically. This is a highly acclaimed event because every one of us has a specified family member who literally saws down our own Christmas trees. We’d all go running through the tree farm to find the perfect tree– which sometimes included my Uncles bringing home the largest tree they could find despite it taking up their entire living room and we’d laugh about it then show up on Christmas Eve and realize, they really weren’t kidding. But before that, we’d take a picture in front of it and then my Dad would cut ours down with the help of my brother, and he’d carry it for the tractor to pick it up and wrap it up to place it on top of our minivan for the ride home. We’d all catch a hayride back and then get in line for the hot chocolate and kettle corn– usually at this point freezing our asses off with red noses and numb fingers. 

It was our tradition. We’d come home and unwrap our perfect tree, and let the branches fluff themselves back out to prepare for decorating. One year, we didn’t realize it until we got home but our tree was completely and absolutely flat on one side. We faced that side towards the window and went on our merry way decorating to The Carpenters, or Elvis’ Christmas– Dad’s favorite. 



Yesterday at my part time job, I started making an eggnog latte and got utterly sad because my parents are usually paying me a visit to snag their own eggnog lattes. 

Except this year, they won’t be. This year, that stepping stone is missing.

And that’s so unbearably frustrating to me. Frustrating in a way that I cannot even find the words for– I want to cry but nothing comes out, I want to scream but I don’t even know why. I want to sleep but I want to stay busy. I want to be thankful but I want to be so angry. 

It’s even more frustrating because it makes me realize I am not the first or the last person who has to experience this. Some have been doing this their whole lives, some for months or a year– some people will be in the exact position I am in, constantly wondering what the hell is going to happen. Wondering what the hell did happen. Why the hell do we not only have to lose the ones we love but why we have to lose them to something so brutal. 

Except none of us know, and inside of our dark corners, we just need to feel relatable and understood. 

Losing somebody you love is no simple feat. Knowing you’re going to lose somebody you love is horrible because it just leaves you absolutely helpless in the worst possible way because you are forced to watch somebody suffer through a pain you wish you could take away. A pain you wish you could just make a little lighter– a pain you wish you could even begin to understand.

But I can’t. 



I can’t even really wrap my head around the fact of the matter because it doesn’t feel real and I don’t think it ever will. I’ve been convinced from the beginning that something HAS to work. Something has to give. Somewhere out there, there’s a reason for this and one day we will look back and remember the experience we had with cancer. Except nothing has worked yet I just keep thinking in the back of my mind that my Dad will get better. He’ll get better, he’ll get better, he’ll get better. There’s been a change of plans, apparently, he’s not getting better and I don’t know how to comprehend that. This time he isn’t getting better, Alicia. This time he won’t get better. No matter how I say it, I can't seem to drill that into my head. Because it feels like he will get better, it feels like he has to because we’re taught to be positive and stick with our routines and stay focused on moving forward.

Except the tiny portioned dinners and Ensure filled fridge don’t bridge the gap between the chair to my left and myself, and that leaves me with a pit in my stomach.

Because despite the scent-free and dye-free laundry detergent, antibacterial soap lining the sink, and all the things we have the power to prevent and consider, I’m still terribly defeated. We’re taught to believe anything is possible, but unless you’re on the brink of canonization and have a few miracles up your sleeve, he isn’t getting better this time and there’s nothing I can do. 

In an attempt to admit my utter fear and confusion, I have to be honest– I’m terrified. As anyone can imagine, there are more questions than answers. I’m frightened to stand face to face with that reality. I’m scared to sit here and admit that I don’t have it all figured out. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to really sit for a moment and question, “what if my Dad isn’t here for Christmas?” 

The optimist in me pushes that aside and tells me not to think about it. Who wants to think about that? Nobody should think that way. But what if I have to? I have to sit with those sad ugly thoughts because as much as I think I can dodge them by constantly moving, they catch up to me anyway. When I think of an eggnog latte. When I’m doing laundry, driving, watching television, when I hear the word cancer, or Dad, or father. When someone asks me how I’m doing and how my Dad is and how my family’s handling everything. 

Because you wonder what moving forward looks like as the small pieces begin to shift, and you don’t get to lay out a path with stepping stones. You wonder what’s going to change and how holidays are going to feel and what your life is going to be like when everything changes. You notice yourself changing– I am more cautious with my time. I’m braver than I thought I’d be. I’m hurt, I’m upset. I’m more reflective and thoughtful and caring. I don’t give stupid things a second thought whereas before I would have wasted time worrying. I’m more engaged where I need to be. I’m more devoted. I’m realizing the importance of my values and who I am. I’m learning who I am. I’m trying to take deeper breaths and be less fearful. I’m trying.