by Bill Stephens, Metro News Chicago

As I sit here reading about another loss, this time the mother of a friend, it brings back the memories of all the family and friends that have left us, especially during the holiday season.

Sure. We all feel loss. How we cope with it determines many things. Every day we hear of the death of someone who is well known, in the public eye; a sports figure, politician or Hollywood type.

Yet, the ones that mean the most are family and friends that we are closest too. The closer the date is to Christmas, the more quickly we remember and feel grief over the people we have lost. It has been 20 years since I lost my dad.

Every Christmas time, I feel the loss of him and, in my mind, I relive the memory of when I found out that we had lost him. Over the last couple of years, it seems the losses are increasing in frequency. I am sure it is mostly due to my getting older and as we age time seems to get shorter between losses.

Maybe I am getting more sensitive to the number of losses as each year progresses. Personally, between September and December of 2015, I attended six services for lost friends and family. There were more, but I was unable to travel even though those each and everyone of those people had made a difference in my life and deserved the respect of my presence to say “Goodbye”.

Three years ago my health “went south”. First, I almost died due to a heart issue that required an emergency quintuple bypass to clear blockages that occurred mostly overnight. It wasn’t until much later that it was discovered that my working out in the extreme heat depleted needed minerals and triggered the blockages.

Then, shortly after my recovery I was diagnosed with bladder cancer and am still battling the disease. I am currently halfway through the most recent round of treatments and only time will tell if it is working.

I have learned through these personal life events that our lifestyle and chosen path in life can have a great effect on our health and I am no exception. While I have had different jobs one in particular, years of volunteering in the fire service, the primary cause of my health issues, I wouldn't change a thing because my hope has always been that I was able to help someone else when they needed it the most.

When you are forced to sit out life while you recover from anything, it tends to force one to take stock of their life and try to determine what they've accomplished. What will you leave behind if you don’t survive the latest setback? Let’s face it – none of us get out of life alive. But, it is how long you manage to stay here, what you can and do leave behind as your legacy, the time you gave to others and what love you shared that makes the difference.

My dad left behind a wife, children and grandchildren. And while he never met the great grandchildren, with any luck those that did know him will hopefully share his story so he may live on in the hearts of even more family members to come.

All we can hope for as we age and struggle to survive is to leave behind a legacy that will live on in the hearts of family and friends. We all hope to be remembered as a person who lived life to the fullest, loved with all our heart and laughed often.

Christmas is once again upon us and my recommendation to all of you is this. Spend time with your family and friends, even the ones that make you crazy because there may not be a next year for the chance to make that memory happen.

Listen to Christmas music and watch those Hallmark movies that are designed to pull at your heart and revive memories from the past. If you can’t see your family or friends, call them. Most everyone has a cell phone these days. Twenty years ago it was much different. We didn't have that luxury. Merry Christmas.

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