The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

By Maggie PetersonDecember 23, 2019

I used to love the holiday season. It felt like safety and warmth and home. I have so many precious memories I associated with the time of year: sparkling lights, hot chocolate, cheesy Hallmark movies, decorating our house with Santa figurines, ceramic Christmas trees, and a wire light-up snowman, the almost-palpable buzz of energy in the community, and playing Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack on repeat.

After my mom was diagnosed with cancer two and a half years ago, I didn’t love the holiday season nearly as much. The feelings of safety, warmth, and home were shrouded by panic and hospital visits and dread. On Christmas Eve of 2017, I journaled, “Tonight was all sorts of beautiful, but everything hurts so much because we can’t have one (holi)day without the glaringly obvious fact that Mom is sick.”

She passed away six months later.

Last Christmas, I was lost in a haze of post-loss numbness. The holiday season was painful, but I was also somewhat protected by the numbness. It felt like I was sitting in the middle of a storm that kept shape-shifting — a fierce blizzard, then a hurricane, followed by a wildfire, a sandstorm, a thunderstorm, and then back to a blizzard. I had nothing stable to hold on to, and my life felt like a blur.

This year, I’m still in the storm. But its shifts are slower, there’s some stability to be found. I’m not as numb. And I have taken comfort in knowing I survived the first year without her. Still, as this holiday season approached, I felt myself tense in preparation for the pain I was too numb to feel last year.

Honestly, it hurts. I’m often flooded with emotions. I’m afraid that this pain won’t ever go away. The anger I feel at the unfairness of losing my mom when I still need her is unrelenting; the sadness I feel from her absence is palpable.

But I also feel gratitude. I’m grateful because I know I’m not alone in my grief.

To others who have lost a parent: It makes sense if your heart feels especially heavy right now. The holidays have a way of emphasizing loss and making it seem like you’re the only one who isn’t happy. Not everyone else is happy, though… It’s a hard time for so many people. In this sense, you are not alone. There’s a distinct loneliness when it comes to moving through the holidays when you’ve lost someone. My hope is that you will be gentle with yourself, lean into the things that bring you contentment and comfort, and reach out for support when you need it.

To anyone and everyone: Don’t buy into the myth that the holidays have to be “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” You don’t need a reason to feel the way you do, whether you’re depressed or lonely or happy or hurting or content—your feelings are valid simply because you feel them.

This time of year will never resemble what it used to for me, but maybe that’s okay. It can still be good in its own way. I can work to cultivate the missing feelings of safety and warmth and home in my life, and I can ask for support when they seem far away.

I’m not alone in this. You’re not either.

I have hope that it won’t feel this heavy forever.

For support during this holiday season (and any other time), please reach out to [email protected] and/or our friends at Crisis Text Line by texting “TWLOHA” to 741741.

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Comments (17)

  1. Kacey Matthews

    Thank you for sharing your story. I too lost my mother-it’ll be 10 years in May. It does get a little easier with time-I like to say we learn to live a “new normal”. Christmas was her favorite time of year so I too get tense and a little on edge before and during the holidays. I was visiting her forever best friend this Christmas and we continued one of her traditions of going to church-I broke down. All these feelings and memories just came rushing back-so even after 10 years it’s just beneath the surface. But although it hurt it also felt good-I hadn’t really felt her presence in awhile, so I guess I did at that moment!
    It’s nice to hear someone else’s story and know I’m not the only one that struggles. Thank you again for sharing! I’m so sorry for your loss and hope you can find comfort soon!

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  2. Heidi

    I needed this. I’ve lost a step parent and I lost my best friend around Christmas time. They’ve been gone for a long time now but it still sucks. I know at some point I will feel the way you do. Death is inevitable and I don’t want to think about how much my life will change when it happens but it will. All I can ask for is that I have people who care about me around when my parents are gone. I hope you have that. Chosen family is so important and I hope you have one. Even if you don’t the things you talked about can and do help. Thanks again for writing this. Losing people is terrible and all you can do is learn to live with the loss. I hope you are able to do so eventually. Until then be kind to yourself, do what makes you happy and never apologize for it.

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  3. Lindsey

    Your voice makes this world a better place to live in. I love you, my soul friend.

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  4. john

    The pain doesn’t ever go away, youlearn day to day to be strong and know that those you have lost make you stronger for it is their memory that helps you remember them and the words they would say if they were here. One day, one week, one year, we move forward forthem.

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  5. Jamie Verran

    Maggie, thank you for sharing this. I lost my mom to cancer on January 4, 2016. The first year definitely was numbness, the second year was better, last year was about the same as the year before, and this year is the hardest yet. Grief has forever changed the holidays for me from a time of happiness to that of sadness. Christmas was my mom’s favorite holiday.

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  6. Julianna

    I just lost my mom in agust from cancer. I’m 21 and it’s been one of the hardest times of my life I became a new mom at 20 all while taking care of a sick mom for a year and a new baby. And now theres a chance my father has cancer too. I haven’t wanted to do anything related to christmas or any holidays this year

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  7. Kim Anders

    Beautifully written. Thank you! I lost my mom last Christmas. She passed away suddenly after a year of suffering with Lewy Body Dementia.

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  8. Yvonne

    Thank you for sharing. I lost my mom in August 2014. It still hurts every day. But especially when the holidays come. I miss the phone calls and seeing her on Christmas and new year’s. For me it hasn’t gotten any easier I’ve just learned how to live with the loss of my mother. I still try to get into the spirit but some years are harder then other. This year was really hard for me. But I do take comfort in knowing she is with me and my family.

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  9. Lesa Jefferies

    Wow…. I just journaled similar words this morning.
    Along with the lyric “it’s the most wonderful time of the year” Thank you for your words of hope

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  10. Joni McGee

    Thank you for your comments, they helped me a lot. It’s been 21 years now and it’s still hard. I still feel the heaviness sometimes. I keep busy this time of year and enjoy time spent with family. They are a blessing in my life.

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  11. Jess

    Thank you for writing this! You are definitely not alone. I lost my sweet mama to cancer a few weeks before Thanksgiving in 2014. I remember being in disbelief and feeling numb that holiday season, and in 2015, the holidays hit with a vengeance. But each year has been less hard (although still very hard), and five years out, I actually feel festive again. Christmas was one of my Mom’s favorite holidays, and I feel her in every present I give and in every connection I have. I miss her terribly and tears have been shed today already, but I know I’m not alone in this world. (((HUGS))) to you and to all who are struggling with loss and grief this year. Your pain is real.

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  12. Michael Steele - a Cousin

    I find that I am numbing out some of the joys of the season. We lost my son Jason the same month we lost your Mom. I thought I felt alone after losing both parents, both my siblings and two of my precious children. We learn to live more because of that. We live to love those that are still with us even more and understand how precious they are, young and old. Persevere, the pain does not go away completely, but, it should turn into precious memories and knowledge that we will meet again.

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  13. Angelia

    It won’t feel this heavy forever. There is hope. Thank you for sharing so openly and putting to words what so many are feeling.

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  14. Sally

    Thank you for this post. It is very tough to lose a parent. I lost my mom when I was 14 years old to cancer and it still sucks (40+ years later). I very much still needed her then and I still need her now. I lost my dad in 2012, he was 92 years old but I still feel like an orphan. The holidays bring back some good memories and every year I tell myself “this is a wonderful time of year! get over it and be happy”. It doesn’t work. You have validated my feelings and for that I thank you.

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  15. Hope

    “I have hope that it won’t feel this heavy forever”
    “I felt myself tense in preparation for the season” all these things I have experienced to the core. Thank you for sharing your heart. Reading things like this make me feel less alone.

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  16. Shalia DeClerk

    I know that it’s well past the holiday season, but I thank you for this. My Daddy passed away in August 2017, and yes, I’m going to be 50 this year and he was still my Daddy. He and I worked with each other in our family business for 25 years. He was the chief of our tribe, as well as my hero, my support and my friend. I felt that when I lost him I no longer really had a place in the tribe any longer. On June 18, 2018, I left the office and haven’t returned. My mother, along with my brother and sister are now running the business. As someone who has walked a long hard path, and has struggled with anxiety and depression my whole life, I receive a paycheck every two weeks, so I can continue to pay bills, psychiatrist, counselors and medications, usually with the words “We hope you get better”. My mother was admitted into the hospital shortly after Thanksgiving 2019, and was still there during Christmas. She’s going to be fine and she’s getting better every day. On Monday she’s going to be moved out of the specialty hospital into a rehab facility for the next 20-30 days before she will be able to return to her home. I had not been invited to spend the holidays with them since I left the office, and when I arrived at the hospital, I was asked by my sister-in-law if I should even be there. My tribe now consists of my husband, my oldest daughter and her husband, my youngest daughter, 17, still at home for now, and my 3 gorgeous grandchildren. I know that I’m being very good at making a short story long, but today for me has been a very emotional day, so I went to the bookshelf and started getting out books, and while reading If You Feel Too Much, again for the umpteenth time, I realized that I hadn’t been on the Twloha site in a long time and thought I’d see if there was anything about the Heavy and Light event for this year, and this blog was the first thing I saw. So once again, thank you. Thank you for reminding me that I’m not alone, for reminding me there is still hope and dreams and life and choices to be made, to be experienced, to be embraced and it’s worth it to continue on with the story that’s being written and played out with each new day. Your words and your work have always been a great source of power and faith for me.

    As a side note: I also pulled out Blue like Jazz and Scary Close, among others.

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  17. Penny Browning

    I have enjoyed reading your blog today! Tell Madison Rae Jones her Meme says hello😊

    Reply  |  
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