How I Honor the Memories of My Dad During the Holidays
Author: Zakees Baker
As the holiday season sets in, I’m reminded of so many special memories of my father, Sgt. Jevon Jordan. I’m reminded of his love of family, sense of duty to serve and that smile on his face when he’d take the first bite of lemon meringue pie. And while the memories can and do bring pain, they’re matched by the purest sense of joy as I think about our happiest moments together. Since his death, I’ve found ways to honor those memories and celebrate his life at the holidays and all year round.
I choose to celebrate those things that made him smile most — the things that made simple moments into ones of heartfelt memories to cherish. We have photos of him all over our family’s home — from his time as a civilian, showing off his beard or dressed in his Sunday best with my mom at church, to his time in the service and the moment when he was headed to the plane for his last deployment. I even keep photos of him on my cell phone, and one, in particular, gives me goosebumps when I pull it up. Sandwiched between my sister Michelle and me, dad held onto us tight in the photo taken in Virginia Beach when I was much younger. Seeing our smiles brings back memories of him as a prankster — jokey and so funny.
We also choose to cook and eat meals we know he would love. That lemon meringue pie — it’s not my favorite by any means. Actually, no one in my family loves it, but every so often you’ll catch our family all in the kitchen rolling out pie dough and whipping up the most beautiful meringue peaks. As we sit down to eat my dad’s favorite dessert and I let the sugary tartness of it touch my taste buds, I try a little more each time to convince myself that I love it as much as he did. Even though it’s still not my favorite, I appreciate every bite. And if only for a moment, it feels like I’m once again sitting across from him at the dinner table at Fort Stewart, Georgia, and watching him laugh and enjoy our family.
Especially at the holidays, we love to watch movies. I’ll sink into the couch and feel the warmth of a blanket tucked in tightly all around me. The popping of popcorn and buttery smell that fills the house reminds me of my dad’s love for movie nights when we would all huddle on the couch together in our pajamas. Now, we watch Kung Fu movies and comedies, and I imagine him sitting right there with us and quoting parts. I can even hear him saying “Kick rocks” and “Hey, Mo” from the Three Stooges.
I have found solace in social media posts. I let the gratitude of November and Thanksgiving seep into how I share my dad with the world. Sometimes, I may post to Facebook and share my thanks for my dad’s service. Other times, I may just post a photo with no text. My mom posts on social media as well. She shares her journey and tells us what comments people leave. My family and friends like the pictures and comments. They share how these little reminders bring his humor and personality to life. And often, they in return post about moments they shared with my dad. This kind of connection reminds me our family isn’t alone in missing him.
Most of all, I’ve found comfort in carrying on the values he taught me. Coming from a military family, we were taught discipline, duty and resilience. And I have carried that with me. I know he would be proud of me.
In late 2015, my little brother’s sickle cell anemia diagnosis became dire. It was clear he would need surgery, and we were told he would need a bone marrow transplant. I knew I had to step up. My other siblings had all left home in pursuit of their dreams, and I knew my dad would have looked to me to support my mother and younger brother. I chose to make my own sacrifices. Just as my dad sacrificed and it set the example for me, I needed to be an example for my little brother to put family and duty first. Over 70 nights in the hospital and 130 days since his surgery, I’m doing my best to hold my head high and support my mother and younger brother through another one of life’s most challenging experiences. It has been worth it to see my brother smile and to know that he and I will both look back on these moments and have our own memories to cherish as siblings. And I know deep down there will be better days. Each day that is fraught with frustrations and trials will be the catalyst for even more gratitude down the road.
I’ve learned there’s nothing wrong with shedding some tears. In fact, it’s necessary to my healing. But I match it with a smile to start my next day and a reminder to myself that I’m growing and healing, even in the most difficult moments.
TAPS has taught me so much about that healing. Being able to connect with other surviving children — both those who are now adults and the children who are just starting their grief journey in Good Grief Camp — has made such an impact on my life. TAPS has become my family. And it’s taught me that I can honor my dad and celebrate his life, even if it requires me to eat another slice of lemon meringue pie.
From the pen of…
Zakees Baker is the surviving son of Army Sgt. Jervon Jordan, who was killed in Iraq. Lost after his father’s death in 2008, Zakees came to TAPS and grew tremendously. He now serves as a TAPS Legacy Mentor and hopes to work in the field of psychology, making a difference for others suffering a loss.