Home for the Holidays: A Heartfelt Journey through Loss, Love, and Courageous Conversations

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The holiday season, with its myriad winter celebrations, is a time for family, traditions, and joy. Yet, we often shy away from difficult conversations, fearing they might cast a shadow over our festivities. Today, I want to share a deeply personal story that intertwines the magic of Christmas with the heartbreaking reality of loss, and I will end with a challenge for you to have a courageous conversation yourself.

Christmas, for me, was more than just a season—it was a precious time spent with my dad.  He owned his own business and worked incredibly hard, but the Christmas season was filled with extra time spent by his side. Thanksgiving marked the beginning of our extra time holiday time together, followed by Birthday which is when the Tree would go up. Even when I graduated college, the Angel never went on top of the tree until we were together. It was our father-daughter tradition. Dad always waited until the last-minute to wrap gifts, which lead to gift-wrapping escapades including sword fights with empty wrapping paper rolls, and using the comics from the newspaper to wrap the final gifts once the wrapping paper was gone. We then stayed in his room and watched Christmas movies or talked, but we stayed in our own little space, Christmas Eve was a time just for us. 

Cancer’s Unyielding Grip:

But life took an unexpected turn when my father was diagnosed with cancer. Surgeries, chemotherapy, and hospitalizations became the norm. Almost two full years we spent in and out of the hospital. Feeding tubes were placed but he was still losing weight and had uncontrolled nausea and vomiting.  IV hydration and nutrition were started, but they didn’t help. Despite his relentless fight, the inevitable truth emerged—he was going to die. Faced with the choice between prolonging his life in a hospital or embracing comfort, we opted for hospice care. We sat in the same hospital that he held me for the first time and signed on to hospice on my 27th birthday.

The Holiday Miracle:

Surrounded by family, we created a Christmas miracle in my father’s final days. Thanks to Namaste Hospice, he found comfort and peace, escaping the pain that had haunted him for two agonizing years. It wasn’t the perfect ending, that ending wasn’t possible. He wasn’t going to live long enough to laugh with his granddaughters, or travel to warmer climates every winter of his retirement. But his end, was a beautiful one—a moment of serenity amidst the storm. He died at home surrounded by his family on December 30, 2010. Only Three weeks after signing onto Hospice.

The Bittersweet Reality:

Yet, amidst the beauty, there was bitterness. I was angry, feeling robbed of my favorite time of the year with him. Christmas lost its sparkle, and the traditions we once shared became painful reminders. The lesson, however, was clear—the holidays come, whether we’re ready or not. Avoiding tough conversations doesn’t protect us; it robs us of precious time and choices. Had we not talked about it, he would have been in the hospital. Had we waited until the New Year to decide what to do, it would have been too late. We wouldn’t have had a choice; he wouldn’t have had the opportunity to die in his home.  Talking about death wont make it find us sooner, just as much as not talking about death will prevent it from coming.

The Call for Courageous Conversations:

I implore you not to shy away from courageous conversations, especially during the holidays. In our death-denying society, acknowledging the inevitable allows for meaningful goodbyes and the autonomy to choose how one’s journey concludes. Waiting until the new year for hospice discussions can jeopardize the comfort and dignity a patient deserves.

The Gift of Comfort:

Despite the anger and sorrow, I honor the gift of having my father at home during his final days. His presence, even in the absence of familiar traditions, brought solace. It took me 3 years to put the Angel on top of the tree again, but his first Granddaughter was the one to break the tradition with the help of her dad.  I kept one present from 2010 Christmas and bring it out every year. This year, as I place his worn, still-wrapped gift on the mantel next to his stocking, I’m reminded of the gratitude that comes from doing everything possible to provide comfort in those final moments.

As we navigate the holidays, let’s not turn away from difficult discussions. Please, let Namaste hospice be a source of comfort for you and your loved ones. Embrace the gift of time, dignity, and choice, ensuring that the magic of the holidays is experienced even in the face of loss. Call us today—because everyone deserves to be home for the holidays.

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