Welcome aboard! What a way to start my Christmas vacation – with a breath of fresh air, a brisk mile-long walk on deck and a chance to celebrate my birthday all wrapped into one big package. Eight days at sea was the perfect opportunity to take advantage of bonding with my siblings, mother, relatives, friends from church and embracing a beautiful white rose memorial service for my wonderful Father who passed away unexpectedly from Brain Cancer.

The hurt, sorrow, and grieving process continue from day to day as I attempt to press forward with my life as I know my Father would want me to do. It was my pleasure and my joy to be at my Father’s side daily for those short months and even when he took his last breath, I was at my Father’s side helping him to see the other side of life better known as heaven.

Before Dad’s illness he spent many days at sea with my mother taking cruises all over the world. He was a Pastor faithfully for 56 years and as often as he could especially after my mother retired of teaching for 33 years; he longed to hear those words Welcome aboard as he stepped on deck of a grand cruise ship. You name the ship from Carnival Magic to Royal Caribbean’s Rhapsody of the Seas every chance my parents could, they would cruise somewhere in the world.

One day shortly after my Father died while we all celebrated my Mother’s 75th birthday party in June 2011, she asked all of the children to take a Cruise with her sailing from Galveston for eight days on the Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas. Magically we were all able to secure the dates and cruise along side our mother. It was a delightful cruise planned and arranged initially by my Father who had hoped to live and sail on this ship with all of his children for the Christmas holiday. Sadly this was not to be for my Father, so my Mother organized the cruise and twenty-six family, friends and people from the church joined us on board as we all honored him and our mother’s wish and sailed away on the crystal blue ocean to celebrate Christmas.

It was a much needed trip and most enjoyable. When I felt adventurous, I climbed a rock wall. When I felt social, I checked out the parties, contests and interactive games not to mention watching my young niece and nephews searching for love. It was so much fun. There was a grand ball night with the captain and elegant evening gowns, live entertainment, stage plays and even a little country dance club for those real cowboys and girls at heart.

The ship was more than 15 floors and each and every floor and/or what they call a deck, had something interesting and unforgettable. Imagine eating whatever you laid your eyes on, and not having to pull out your credit card. Black Friday after Thanksgiving is great, but nothing tops the sales and offers on a cruise ship not to mention the duty free products. I was completely in heaven.

The ports of call was great too as we traveled to Cozumel, Mexico, Georgetown, Grand Cayman and a new port Falmouth, Jamaica. The weather was super fine and of course no one needed coats. By the fourth day the ship docked at Georgetown, Grand Cayman. This day was a special day as it was my birthday, December 14, 2011. To celebrate I enjoyed speeding on a jet ski, Para-sailing, fine food and watching my sister niece and cousin get painful tattoo’s that I later learned was not so painful at all, as it was painted on and would be faded and removed at the end of two weeks.

At dinner later that night on the ship my family surprised me with gifts, a toast from two of my brothers, and a special birthday song you may have heard performed by Stevie Wonder that is so colorful and full of rhythm. One of my Uncle’s who was formerly a lead singer with a Male quartet group took the show in the entire Ball room as he lead the song and even created special verses just for me. It was a birthday celebration I will always remember.

Finally as our Christmas cruise was nearing the end and return to Galveston, one of my brothers arranged in the chapel on the top deck a beautiful memorial service for our Dad. We decided that we wanted it to be a joyful time, because Dad enjoyed cruising so much. At our service each person who wanted to speak had to tell of something funny they experienced with Dad. Everyone had such wonderful stories to share that most of us never knew had ever occurred.

We sung some of Dad’s favorite Gospel hymns, prayed, laughed and after the service we were escorted by one of the ship’s PR directors to the lower deck where there were no people, and each of us in the family my mother, sister, brothers, nephews, niece and the chairman of the deacons from my Father’s church each had a White Rose that we all tossed into the ocean as the ship sailed back home to Houston, we extended to our Father a well done message, rest in peace and a Merry Christmas wish all with combined hearts, tears and even joy for the life he lived and provided for us. It was a special Christmas because it is our first Christmas without our Father.

As we sailed along the beautiful sea reflecting on the many Christmas vacations dating back to our early childhood with our Father and our Mother, I couldn’t stop thinking about these words of my Father. “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

After we threw the white roses to the sea we closed with prayer and went to the third deck where we celebrated with laughter, food, stories from the pass and exchanged gifts in the grand ballroom making it a grand Christmas vacation indeed and one I certainly will never forget.

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