The last Holiday we were able to celebrate with Mark was the 4th of July. I remember it well. It was super hot, similar to this year. Hezekiah was obsessed with rivers at the time, so we drove up to Taylor's Falls to have lunch at the Drive In and walk down by the St Croix. While in Wisconsin we would grab some fireworks to take home. Our first stop was for fireworks. Mark was giddy in the store, I think I gave him about $150 budget, but I am certain when he sent me outside with the kids he about doubled that by throwing more in the cart. He even let each of the kids choose one they wanted to buy. We loaded up the car and headed for lunch. We got to the drive in, and you could choose to sit outside, but Mark wanted to stay in the car because he was truly afraid of COVID and didn't want to be too close to anyone else. So we sat in the car, I remember him and Amaya passing the ketchup back and forth in the car, and for some reason it just really strikes me as funny. Once we started walking down by the river Mark started to talk about not feeling too well, but we kind of just figured it was due to the heat. After walking a few of the paths Mark headed back to the car and waited in the Air Conditioning for us to be done. Soon enough we headed back home, and when it got dark we started the fireworks show. We had one angry neighbor drive by and yell at Mark for shooting off fireworks in the street, he yelled "You know, you aren't supposed to light those off in the street." Mark quickly responded with a simple "Have a goodnight." When the man continued, Mark insisted "Sir, I said have a goodnight." He refused to engage further than that, even though it was pretty clear the man was looking for an argument. Mark just was happy to be there and set off all of what we bought, he actually looked at me and said "I really want this 4th of July to be special for our kids."
I don't think that Mark had any idea that it would be our last holiday together as a family, but I do believe that in his last months that God led him to be present with us. I hope that the kids and I don't forget that last 4th of July with Mark, I am grateful that despite COVID restrictions and almost 100 degree heat that we still did something together.
This year me and the little kids didn't do much to celebrate, and that is ok. I am just trying to acknowledge that the 4th of July was the last of our firsts for the year. Now, I know that "the firsts" are not over just because almost a year has passed. There will always be something else; the first day of kindergarten, the first varsity volleyball game, the first track meet, the first graduation, the first boyfriends, the first health scare, the first driver's license, the first college dorm, the first wedding, and the list will go on. I know something else as well, there will be a first time I see Mark in heaven, and I anxiously await that day.
I also know that I have more than just last 4th of July that I can look back on. I remember the first 4th of July that I knew Mark. We didn't spend it together, I was running a 10k in Nisswa. He was nearby in Garrison, and had told me he might try to drive out to watch me run, but ended up skipping it. I think it was because he was still a little bit scared to tell his family that he was dating me, and couldn't leave the cabin without suspicion. The second 4th of July Mark and I were already engaged, and we joined my parents and brother on a trip to Chicago to drop Derek off at the airport so he could go to Africa. I was able to meet some of Mark's family, and drive through his old neighborhood. I can tell you one thing, he was shocked to see white people walking around where he used to live. We saw some sights and ate good food. 4th of July 2016 I was pregnant with Hezekiah, we joined Nikki and Jackson for dinner and then watched fireworks from on top of parking ramp. 4th of July 2017 we had the girls for the first time, I don't actually remember too much about that year except watching the girls faces as they sat on the back of my car and watched Mark light off the few little fireworks he grabbed from Walmart.
Eventually I know that they will all blend together, but I am sure the last one will stick out. Here I sit with Hezekiah and Samara curled up next to me, still somehow feeling a bit alone. Holidays can be hard, but I am hoping that after this one I will be able to focus more on making new traditions and less on it being the "first" without Mark.