In my experience, winter is full of weddings.

One of my best friends from college got married on Monday.

A celebration that I thought was in Eureka Springs, AR, was actually in Hot Springs, AR.

So my drive went from two-and-a-half hours to five hours.

No biggie. I’ve made the 17-hour drive to Phoenix in one day by myself – so I knew this measly five-hour drive wouldn’t be a problem.

As I crossed the Arkansas River, I realized the route plugged into my maps was taking me down a path I traveled many times years ago.

A road I didn’t expect – or want – to ever go down again.

Driving south on Towson Avenue, I passed what used to be Sparks Hospital – now Baptist Health.

It was in that hospital where I spent half my senior year of college praying I’d get to walk out with my biological father, Curtis.

My father was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer a week before my senior year started in 2018.

Two days before classes began, he got up on the table to undergo a surgery we all dreaded.

That night is shrouded with terror as he coded blue. I was stuck in the corner of his room watching as nurses screamed his name and doctors rushed to bring him back to me.

A night that will haunt me until my own passing.

Thankfully, Curtis made it through the night. After that, every weekend was spent in Fort Smith. I was working as a sports reporter for the Stroud American at the time; it didn’t matter where the team went Friday night, I would cover the game, drop the SD card off in Meeker and head east on I-40.

Many weekends I wouldn’t get to my destination until 2 a.m.

Curtis left the hospital in October and died in November. This man who was a stranger became one of my closest allies and best friends.

To give some background, my parents weren’t married when I was born. After my mother died when I was 2 years old, Curtis signed away his rights and I was raised by my uncle. I met Curtis in 2013 after I graduated from high school and moved back to Oklahoma. For five years, a bond that we both thought was severed became a bond strong enough to withstand the endless trials in life.

Memories flooded my mind as I passed the hospital and for the last three hours of my drive to Hot Springs I relived the past.

I covet the many summer days spent on the Black Fork River fishing, or countless hours four-wheeling through the Shawnee Ridges, or winter nights huddled up by the wood burning stove in his cabin.

Christmas truly is a time of joy, but sometimes joy can be hard to find when you’re surrounded by reminders of those who have left earlier than desired.

I know it sounds cliché and typical, but hug your families a little tighter this year. Reach out to those you haven’t talked to in a while. They may not be around much longer or make it to next Christmas.

Chelsea Weeks is the News Editor of the Claremore Daily Progress.

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