The Flicker of a Flame: The Holiday Spirit After Losing a Loved One

I have loved the holidays for as long as I can remember. When I was a child, my perception of the holidays began on Halloween and ended on Valentine’s Day. Not too much has changed in my adult years – except for maybe my levels of excitement.

I am not the crazy person that puts up decor for everything and shops months in advance and crafts until her fingers bleed…no. My love for the holidays is found in an intangible place.

It’s a feeling I get when the first northern wind blows in (*term used loosely, author lives in Texas) and the neighbors sport the ridiculousness of carved gourds on their porches. People eat creamy things and buttery things and they drink more than they should and – even if it’s a bit put on – they seem happy.

I understand the need to fake it, really I do. A few years ago something happened that I thought would blow out that little intangible candle forever. My father died.


Easter 2011 – our last photo of just the two of us.

He was diagnosed with cancer in the summer of 2007 and after many years of a very hard battle that I will not pretend to understand, he died. It was December 21st, 2011 and he was gone. Just days before Christmas. We held his funeral on the 23rd and then we tried to go on and I thought then, I cannot. I cannot go on. This will never be the same. I will always have to pretend, from now on, that this is a happy time.

I spend a lot of time inside my head and inside of my memories, trying to make my future better than my past and find meaning in the hurtful disappointments that life dishes out. There has never been a hurt like seeing my father lose his life to cancer. There has never been a disappointment like catching myself looking around a room for him, still, after three years.


Thanksgiving 2008

However, that courageous, strong, funny, brilliant man in the photo above would be so frustrated with me if he knew I still had to convince myself that there was joy to be had in this time of year. If he knew how I have had to muster the merry, year after year, he would be so sad. So this year…I have tried to embrace the creeping bit of holiday sparkle, the rekindling that has found its way back to my heart.

I bought a few new holiday albums. I even have an ugly sweater. And a holiday cat shirt, because OF COURSE.


I unabashedly love cat puns. I mean, really meow. They’re purrfect.

I plan on accepting invitations to parties (I’m not full blown cat lady just yet) and actually attending some of  them. I will decorate the house. I will wrap presents some time prior to 6:00 pm on Christmas Eve. I will revel in the fact that there is a true spark of happy budding in me where I thought it had long been forever lost.

When December 21st comes I will remember my father. I know I will feel so much sadness and loss. I will spend time alone, wishing for his presence and tearfully recalling him. I will visit his graveside, with winter white roses for his children, a red one for his wife and yellow ones for his grandchildren. I will gather with my family and remember him on that day. I will not ignore the anniversary of his death.

I’m not sure what this means for me right now…or how it will change how I see the holiday season. But it feels like progress toward healing up from such a still gaping wound.

I know this much is true…struggling through the holidays, just dreading the march of Thanksgiving through Christmas and allowing his memory to soak it all in sadness and grief would be something he would never have condoned. HE would be hurt by that attitude. HE would be disappointed in my behavior.


So I will make as merry as I can and I will remember the years past, when he was here and beautiful and healthy and whole. I will embrace the good things he gave me, like my resilience and my sense of humor and my love.

And just because this post didn’t have much to do with my normal theme of cats, doesn’t mean that there isn’t still opportunity to see a bit of priceless humor in it – because finding a little joy in life is as simple as opening your eyes a little wider to it.


Such amazing humor. December 2010 – our last Christmas with Dad. Yes, that’s a bow on his nose!

2 thoughts on “The Flicker of a Flame: The Holiday Spirit After Losing a Loved One

  1. So many thoughts and prayers sent to you and your family. It is so hard to lose someone at any time, but especially around the holidays. Especially Christmas time. I never knew my Dad, and never will be able to. He passed away some years ago. My sister-in-law and my mother-in-law, both passed away in December several years ago. It is always a hard time to remember, but my husband and I and his family remembers all the good times as well. My father-in-law passed away in August of 2004. So there is still my Mother. Stay strong and enjoy the family and friends you still have. May you have a wonderful Christmas month. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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