The holidays can break your heart when you’re missing someone you love.

People often talk about the year of firsts after someone passes—their first birthday, your first birthday, the first Thanksgiving, the first Christmas. Of course, there are also the hundreds of small moments that take you by surprise in their swift and piercing cruelty—the first time you pick up the phone to text them a picture of their grandchild and then remember they aren’t there to receive it. The first time the weather gets cold enough to light the fireplace and you realize your dad isn’t there to do it for you as he has each previous year.

The year of firsts is unrelenting in the ways it breaks your heart, never for a moment letting you forget what you’ve lost.  

I find myself filled with grief as I count the days to the first Christmas without my dad. I wish I could be happy and find comfort in the beauty of the holidays. I long to feel joy and peace as we approach this magical time of year, but I’m overwhelmed by the enormity of this loss, and can’t seem to navigate these final weeks of the year without him.

The things that once brought happiness feel unbearably heavy this year. 

Each day that passes takes me one day farther away from the last time I heard his voice, the last time he hugged me, the last time I saw his smile. I cling desperately to these memories, making it difficult to look forward to anything that takes me farther away from them. 

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I’ve never before lived through a December in which he didn’t also exist and it feels impossible to create a beautiful and joyful holiday season when such a large part of it is suddenly missing. A Christmas without him is unfathomable. How am I now supposed to be the creator of the magic and memories? I’m not ready to be responsible for carrying on the traditions that define this season for my family. I needed more time; more time with him, and more time to prepare for this new reality. 

Welcoming the new year is daunting. I had hoped there would be a quiet relief in closing out the year that took so much for me, but there isn’t. I feel only sadness at opening the door to a year that my dad didn’t live to see. I believe that someday I will feel joy and peace at this time of year again, once I’ve had time to heal but this year my heart is broken. 

PS – When the holidays are hard, I hope you feel my love.

Chelsey McCarthy

Chelsey is the mama of one sweet baby girl and one grumpy bulldog. By day she works in patient advocacy with the rare disease and cancer communities. She is overly sentimental and an aspiring writer.