Christmas was my daughter’s favorite holiday and she planned for it all year. But she didn’t have much money and there were times when she relied on the local food bank. If money was such a problem, how could she afford to buy Christmas gifts? Little by little, year by year, I learned the answer to this question. 

She put her talents and intelligence to work and made gifts – fragrant apple pies, plants grown from cuttings, and needlework items. She also bought gifts from flea markets and thrift stores. On Christmas morning, when she walked in the back door loaded down with presents, joy radiated from her face. 

I wish I could get that excited about the holiday, but I cannot. Maybe it is because I have celebrated so many Christmases and miss my daughter. If I am honest with myself, I know I have a sense of poignancy. My daughter is gone forever; I am alive. 

How do my husband and I get through Christmas? Five years have passed since my daughter died from the injuries she received in a car crash. During these passing years, I have learned how to handle the rush of the holidays and the flood of emotions I feel.

First, we contribute to the Salvation Army. We know our daughter shopped in its store, respect the organization’s mission, and the work it does. Like last year, we’re ringing bells for the Salvation Army at a red kettle location in a grocery store. At this time of year, it is freezing in Minnesota and the kettles are often indoors. 

Second, we focus our attention on our daughter’s twins, our grandchildren, who live with us and turn 21 in February. As we wait for them to come home from college our excitement builds. Our granddaughter looks so much like her mother it startles us. Our grandson thinks like his mother, who eventually became a composite engineer, and he cuts through problems like a knife cutting through butter. 

Third, we foster our grandchildren’s dreams. Because our grandchildren are really adults, we do not get involved in their decisions, and offer advice only when asked. We were surprised to learn our grandson will be spending the second semester of his junior year in Argentina. We were equally surprised to learn our granddaughter will be spending May in Thailand, teaching English to students.

Sure, we could wring our hands and worry, but we don’t. Instead, we support their decisions and cheer them on. We focus on our life mission, helping the twins get the education they need, set life goals, and pursue them. 

Fourth, we embrace new traditions. Most of our relatives have moved to Wisconsin and for the last two years we celebrated Christmas with them. Being surrounded by noisy family members, the people who loved and supported us when tragedy struck, is comforting and puts “merry” into the greeting, “Merry Christmas!” This Christmas, as with all the Christmases that have passed since our daughter died, we renew our pledge: “Helen, we love you, love your children, and will not fail you.” Our daughter’s spirit lives on in Christmas and in her children, the children we love and treasure so much.

Harriet Hodgson 2012


Harriet Hodgson

Harriet Hodgson has been a freelancer for 38 years, is the author of 36 books, and thousands of print/Internet articles. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Minnesota Coalition for Grief Education and Support, and Grief Coalition of Southeastern Minnesota. In 2007 four of her family members died—her daughter (mother of her twin grandchildren), father-in-law, brother (and only sibling), and the twins’ father. Multiple losses shifted the focus of Hodgson’s work from general health to grief resolution and recovery, and she is the author of eight grief resources. Hodgson has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows, including CBS Radio, dozens of blog talk radio programs, and dozens of television stations, including CNN. In addition to writing for Open to Hope, Hodgson is a contributing writer for The Grief Toolbox website, and The Caregiver Space website. A popular speaker, she has given presentations at public health, Alzheimer’s, hospice, grief, and caregiving conferences. Hodgson’s work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors, and other directories. For more information about this busy wife, grandmother, author and family caregiver, please visit

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