Tag Archives: Christmas


Her face beamed as she handed me the paper this past January.

“I know Christmas is over, Mama, but I’m getting ready for next year.”

That’s my girl. Just like her Mama, always planning ahead. Making lists, checking things off. I skimmed the list, laughing at her practicality and her whimsy: Sharpies, a whole pack! A wish upon a star! Spinning top!
But then three words silenced me.

Cancer-curing kit!

I raised my head. Gazed at her as she smiled to herself, still chortling and feeling quite clever at preparing a wish list eleven months before necessary.

“Beary? What’s this?” I asked, pointing to the cancer-curing kit.

“Oh, you know, Mama, a kit that I can have to cure Daddy’s cancer. Then he won’t be sick and at the hospital. And if I have a kit, then no one will get cancer again.” She answered with her usual matter-of-factness, dismissing my puzzlement with a wave of her hand.

“Uh, yeah, but I’ve never seen a cancer-curing kit before. I don’t know…are you sure they make them? I mean, that’s sort of what chemo is for, right?”

“A kit works faster than chemo, Mama.” She was so solicitous of my obvious ignorance, so adamant in her certainty.

I had no words. Truthfully? I wanted a cancer-curing kit, too. I wanted Kevin to be healthy again, able to be fully present with us again. Not weakened and dragged down by the endless chemo, the endless poison, the endless…cancer.

So I shrugged and she danced, and we both wished for the impossible. A cancer-curing kit.

We didn’t get it.

Not the impossible and not the kit.

We prayed. We wished. We hoped. And Kevin fought longer and harder than anyone expected. But none of it was enough.

It’s Christmas now, and there’s been no more mention of the kit. But it’s not because she’s given up on the idea. Her whimsy and imagination and absolute certainty in how life should unfold wouldn’t allow it. No, she hasn’t given up on the idea of a kit; she just decided that she’d have to be the one to make it happen.

After an exhaustive discussion about cadavers, infectious disease, and vaccinations, she turned to me and earnestly said, “Mama, I am going to be the one to figure out how to stop cancer from ever growing. Not figure out what to do when it’s already in your body, but how to keep it from even getting there. I can do it. Do you believe me?”

You bet, little girl. I believe you.

It’s funny what we choose to believe in, even when everything in life conspires against our faith and shakes our confidence. Even when things are so hard that it feels impossible to keep going. But we do it. We keep going on; we keep believing, trusting. And right now, at Christmas, there is so much in which to believe, so much to open our hearts to. And I do believe. I believe in the spirit of Santa Claus, as we spread happiness and compassion to those around us. I believe our holy God sent His son as a baby to save this hurting world. I believe Kevin is alive and healthy in heaven and that someday I will be there with him for eternity.

And I absolutely believe in a little girl who is holding my hand and showing me every day there is still joy and hope and miracles and mystery to be found in this world. She believes in God and in herself and she is unwavering in her conviction that she can make a difference. She believes in possibilities, in wishes on stars and cancer-curing kits, and she wants me to, as well.

So because of her, in the midst of this Christmas season, in the midst of the hurt and grief and uncertainty, one prayer will be unceasing in my heart:

I believe.

Believe in what your heart is saying
Hear the melody that’s playing
There’s no time to waste
There’s so much to celebrate
Believe in what you feel inside
And give your dreams the wings to fly
You have everything you need
If you just believe

(Believe, Josh Groban)


A Sand Dollar for Daddy

After Beary was born, I bought into the whole Hallmark keepsake ornament tradition because, of course, new baby + sentimental commercial = teary Mama and a trip to the nearest Hallmark store. Keepsake. Tradition. Memories. The advertising campaign was brilliant and easily reeled in two new parents, stupidly in love with each other and their little girl. We started her collection that year, just before she turned one, with a charming Winnie the Pooh and Piglet ornament, the two characters adorably wrapped in Christmas-striped scarves, frolicking around a giant candy cane.

And just like that, it was our tradition. Each year, Kevin took off work early and we loaded up to take the Bear to visit Santa at the mall, belting out Christmas carols all the way, his mostly off-key renditions making us laugh. Afterward, we strolled down to the Hallmark store and picked out an ornament to commemorate the occasion. And each year the ornament represented an event, or something that she was currently interested in, something that sparked her passion and consumed her for the year: Thomas the Tank Engine, Toy Story, a ballerina, Frosty the Snowman, Dora the Explorer.

So now, it’s what we do at Christmas: she picks a new ornament every year and proudly hangs it in a place of honor – front and center – on the tree. Where we can’t miss it. Where we’re reminded, each time we pass by, of whatever impressed her that year.

Last week was really hard. The rain, the leaves, the grief – it was all piling up and I had to get out of town. So we packed a suitcase and set off to the city. We wandered a beautiful exhibit of French impressionists at the art museum and, inspired, she plopped down in front of the paintings to sketch. We giggled as sea creatures in the aquarium’s touch pool tickled our fingers and wrinkled our noses at the sharp fishy smell. We ate a leisurely lunch and shared a decadent dessert and contemplated how long was too long to stay in the hot tub at the hotel.

And even though it’s much earlier than I usually start thinking about Christmas, when I saw a Hallmark store, I said, “Hey! Let’s pick out your ornament for this year.”

She was on board, even though we hadn’t seen Santa yet or even completed her Christmas list. I set her loose to meander along the ornament wall, thinking it would take her a while to examine each ornament. I imagined she’d ooh and ahh over each cute snowman or cat ornament, and push each tiny button on the battery-operated ones, dancing in the aisles with excitement as tinny holiday music tinkled out.

But I was wrong.

She honed in on one section and it wasn’t long before she said, “This one, Mama. For Daddy.”

I walked over to her. She looked up at me, then pointed to a box right in front of her – on her eye level, so there’s no way she would’ve missed seeing it.

A simple sand dollar, a tiny dove hanging from its pearly-gold ribbon, with an inscription: The ones we love never truly leave us.

Stupid Hallmark…always making me cry.

She looked up at me anxiously, waiting for my reaction. I blinked back tears, not wanting my grief to intrude on her happiness at choosing her ornament.

“Because Daddy, well, he’s still in our hearts, Mama,” she explained earnestly.

“I know, baby girl…he sure is.”

She nodded and smiled and gently carried the box to the counter, pleased to have a keepsake ornament that includes her Daddy in our Christmas this year.

Honestly, I’m not ready for the holidays. I don’t know how to celebrate without Kevin. I don’t want to celebrate without Kevin. I have no holly jolly fa-la-la-la-la joy this year. If I could, I’d just skip it all. Hide from now until February. No turkey, no pumpkin pie. No twinkly-light tree or stockings by the fire. No champagne flutes and party hats. Nothing.

But I can’t.

Because I have a little girl with Kevin-blue eyes who earnestly looks to me to keep things together. A little girl who loves our traditions, looks forward to each little ritual, and depends on me to carry on and keep something consistent in our life that’s been turned upside down.

A little girl who, when given an entire wall of whimsy and sparkle, chose a simple ornament for her Daddy. An ornament that represents our year and forever marks the day our lives changed. An ornament that will hang front and center on our tree this year, gently reminding us as we flounder through the heartache of this holiday season:

The ones we love never truly leave us.