Sara Vanden Berge

Some years are harder than others.

For my family, this has been a particularly difficult year. In July, we lost my father to cancer after a grueling seven-month battle with the disease that consumed our lives. Losing my father devastated our family and we are still struggling to recover.

And now itís the holidays.

Everyone keeps telling me the holidays are going to be difficult this year and thatís probably true. But since losing my dad, every day has been difficult. Some days are easier than others, but his passing is always there, just a flickering thought away from the jarring realization that I can no longer pick up the phone and call him or that I will never see him again on this earth.

So when Thanksgiving rolled around, I didnít know what to expect. I worried that I might not be able to enjoy the holiday because my grief would overshadow the joy of the season. I was determined, however, to make the best of it for my kids. They deserve some holiday cheer after all theyíve been through this year.

So on Thursday morning, we put up one of our Christmas trees and started decorating the house. I made my green bean casserole, and that afternoon, we headed to my in-lawsí to celebrate our first Thanksgiving without my dad.

As I suspected, the day was different, but in many ways it was the same. My mother-in-lawís turkey and famous sausage stuffing were as good as always. My momís pecan pies and corn casserole were a blissful reminder of the taste of Thanksgiving when I was growing up. The house was warm and full of nieces and nephews and brothers and sisters who gathered around the table to laugh and play games.

Of course, my dadís absence was felt acutely and there were a few teary moments, but I was relieved that I could look at those around me and find plenty to be thankful for. I counted it as an unexpected blessing.

I have learned a lot since my dadís passing and throughout this year. I have learned that at the end of the day, I want to be at home with my family more than any place else. I have also learned that many cliches are true. Time really does fly by and you never know what youíve got until itís gone. I have also been reminded about the power of strong friendships and family ties.

More importantly, I have learned that despite great loss, there are always reasons to be thankful.

My father was a man who loved his family more than anything else in the world. I believe the best way to honor his memory is to be as devoted to mine as he was to us.

Iím moving into the Christmas season with a joyful heart. Iím sure there will be no shortage of tears this holiday season, but I will remember Christmases past with fond memories while forging ahead to make new ones.

Itís what my dad would have wanted.

Sara Vanden Berge is managing editor of the Empire-Tribune. She can be reached at (254) 968-2379 ext. 240.