Since my parents go divorced when I was 12, Christmas was always celebrated with my dad. There was never a discussion, it was at my dad´s place and everybody would be there at least one of the days. My dad, his new wife, her kids and the five of us. In all those years I think I only missed once because we decided to stay in Spain with my parents-in-law and I hated it. So the years after, the hubby knew better than asking what we would do for Christmas; my dad´s it was.

Our tradition was that everybody made a dish, when you were young it was with the help of my dad and in the later years we were in charge and he was only supposed to do the wine pairing. (Pretty hard to stay out of the kitchen for an avid cook so he usually ended up cooking anyway.)  After hours of wining and dining, most nights finished around the piano, him playing and the rest of us singing (or screaming in my case after a couple of wines).

If only last year we would have known, it would be his last Christmas…

As always, he did most of the cooking even though he couldn’t eat due to an upcoming operation to remove his stomach cancer. On Christmas Eve we received very good news from the hospital so we were all so relieved and full of hope: next year we would have a normal Christmas again, where he could also join the eating and drinking part, and we would end up around the piano instead of listening to others making music.

Yet here we are, it’s almost “next year” and one thing is for sure: it’s not going to be a normal Christmas. How can it be without my dad?

Since none of us saw this one coming, all of us made different Christmas plans for this year, because the old format without my dad would just be too painful. It’s too soon for that. So this year we are staying in Spain, in our new house, instead of travelling back to the Netherlands.

For a few months now, I have been dreading Christmas. I didn’t want Christmas to come and I didn’t want to know anything about. I know that especially on those days I will miss my dad so much and just thinking about Christmas makes the pain of his loss almost unbearable.

However, despite dreading Christmas, this weekend I decided to put the decorations up anyway, because no matter what, Christmas is around the corner and I need to make something off it whether I like it or not.

And although it hurts so much just thinking about Christmas, when we set up a little tree in our living room the look on my son’s face seeing the lights and the decorations made me realize that this Christmas has to be about making new memories. Christmas was my dad’s thing so I owe it to him to make it one to remember.

Making New Memories This Christmas: Choosing Joy Over Grief

Tineke Franssen

Tineke Franssen is a working mom abroad that is trying to keep her sanity amongst cultural clashes both at work and at home (Spanish parents in law anyone?). When she is not in the office or working through piles of laundry, you can find her drinking wines with friends, watching Grey´s Anatomy, playing fieldhockey or writing on her blog