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MERRY CHRISTMAS, DAD

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The clock on the wall revealed that it was exactly midnight. It was now Christmas Eve day.

The doctor's words were softly spoken. I had to strain to hear what he was saying. And yet, I fought against those words. Did I really want to hear them? What were we all doing here? I looked at the solemn faces of my family and last of all my dad. Did I look as shocked and helpless as they did?"We've got the results of the blood test," the oncologist said quietly.

I looked out the window of the hospital room and my eyes focused on the bright, colorful sign of a toy store down below and I just stared at it.

"I'm sorry, the test came back positive. It is leukemia," the doctor confirmed.

There was silence. The kind of silence that frightens you, like in the movies when it's quiet right before the monster jumps out and grabs the hero. A monster had invaded our lives. A monster called leukemia and it had gotten a hold of my dad, my hero.

I felt sick, like someone had punched me hard in the stomach and I couldn't breathe. I tore my eyes away from the toy sign and looked at my father lying in the hospital bed. He was strangely composed, but I could still see the fear in his eyes, the blue eyes that I had inherited from him. I suddenly remembered a time about four years ago when I was about 17. I'd been standing in front of a mirror and my dad had come up behind me. He smiled and I had smiled back.

"Do you know what, Dad? I have your eyes," I had said.

Then I watched as those blue eyes filled up with tears as I looked back at his reflection.

"We'll have to begin intense chemotherapy immediately," the doctor said jerking me out of my reverie. I didn't realize that my cheeks were wet with tears until my dad reached out his hand to me. I was afraid to take it. Afraid that touching him would somehow validate all of this making it real. I wanted it to be some horrible nightmare that I could wake up from. But it was real. I stepped forward and took his hand.

It had never been so difficult to leave someone. I felt like we were abandoning him as we left later that morning, but he needed to rest . . . if he could. He would have to have a bone marrow biopsy to determine what kind of leukemia he had. We soon found out that he was in the advanced stages of acute myelogenous leukemia, a very serious strain, especially in adults.

My sister went home with my mom from the hospital, and I was left to drive home alone. I cried as I drove, picturing what my father would look like after losing his black, curly hair from the chemotherapy treatment. I desperately wished that it was me that had leukemia and not him. He was so much better a person than I was. He was the peacemaker, the person who always looked for the best in people and then managed to bring those qualities out. He was the foundation upon which we had built our home, our family, our lives. If he died, I knew that a part of me would perish also.

When I awoke the next morning I was amazed that I had slept at all. But sometimes shock is like putting a blanket over a ticking bomb. It allows you to slip away. But then the blanket is pulled back and the bomb is once more exposed. You have to deal with it knowing that it might explode in your face. Everything came back full force and I was suddenly angry.

It was Christmas Eve day and the usual holiday cheer was painfully vacant from our home. We were no longer facing a babe in a manger, Santa Claus and Christmas gifts. We were dealing with leukemia, oncology, chemotherapy and maybe even death. I was angry that we had to acknowledge Christmas. It was like a mockery or some sick joke. It was like knowing that you're going to drown, but having to swim anyway.

But on Christmas morning we gathered all my dad's gifts together and took them to the hospital. He was too sick to open them himself, so we each unwrapped the gifts we'd brought for him. He was so weak, and I thought maybe this hadn't been such a good idea, but he looked up at us, his weary eyes still sparkling, and he thanked us. He told us that everything would be all right.

"We'll get through this," he said with such conviction that I just stood and stared at him in awe and somehow I found the courage to believe him. I realized that he wasn't angry or bitter about what was happening to him. I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders, and I was ashamed that I had wanted to bypass Christmas. It wasn't about presents or decorations. It was something you manufactured from within. That day we laughed and joked and teased each other and we were happy.

The doctors didn't think my dad would even make it through the first night, but he did. He taught me that faith and courage can go a long way. He even made it through the next Christmas after three months of chemotherapy and another three months going through a bone marrow transplant.

My father died Feb. 6, 1993, at home when the leukemia returned, but through those many months I would hear those words he first said so long ago on that Christmas Day.

"We'll get through this."

And we did. And he did. He never complained and he never gave up.

Merry Christmas, Dad. I love you.

*****

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Brooke Thomas

Brooke Thomas of Midvale hopes to become a full-time writer and is a student at the Institute of Children's Literature.

She currently works for a life insurance company and wrote the story as a Christmas present to her late father, John W. Thomas.

About her story, Thomas says, "Although this story is the Christmas I remember best, it wasn't necessarily the best Christmas I ever had, but I learned a valuable lesson that Christmas about my family, myself and what Christmas is really about."