Ah, Christmas, a time of stress, expectations, conflicting beliefs, overspending, and overeating. The world transforms into a commercialized winter wonderland filled with deflated Elsas and fake, white, baby Jesuses strewn across the lawns of suburbia. But for some of us, it is also a time of tradition, a time of music, and a time of memory. I must admit, my inner scrooge is quite happy that there will be fewer gift exchanges, fewer parties, and fewer school obligations. Though, for me, the obligation of the Elf on a Shelf (the tiny creature of felt and plastic invented by a woman so starved for a tradition, she created a trauma-inducing terror for parents everywhere) still exists. Make no mistake. I’ll save him for my children — they need to know the early morning terror of realizing he’s not been moved.

Christmas in this house has always been somewhat of a production. Four trees, 90 feet of lit garland woven through the balusters, 45 poinsettias scattered tastefully about the house, and Christmas music collected over the years playing in the background. It’s been menus, family gatherings, Santa, and rituals. But last Christmas and this Christmas have been hard. Keeping all of this up is far more than one man can bear. I sat alone by the fire last night, missing my husband. I didn’t intend to get lost in reverie, but as with most memories, it was triggered by the simplest question from my daughter, “Which tree does the angel go on and which tree gets Father Christmas?” The angel was his. It was always important to him and topped our most elegant tree. When our girls came along, we’d hoist them in the air to put it on the topmost branch. She’s hard to take out of the box, now. There are so many memories.

Like last year, this will be another season marked with tears. All of my energy will maintain the traditions and keep some semblance of joy for my children. As I watched the fire die, I reflected on the day’s events. The trees were rolled out from their closets as usual, but I spent hours on the floor with the light repair tool working on the strands of tree lights. Some of them had begun to falter. How much would I be able to do to keep it all together? There was still dinner to get and laundry to do. The struggle is more each year. There is no energy left for new traditions or the transformation of the old. Status quo.

It’s always funny to me the number of people who say after you lose someone, “It gets better.” It, indeed, does not. In many ways, it gets more and more difficult. The pain of loss is always there, just beneath the surface. It doesn’t wane, it doesn’t fade; the ball in the box doesn’t get smaller. Hope is in the fact that things get different. You can’t continue singularly down a path for two. The path has ended. You have to build something new. I think that looks different for everyone. While I’ll keep my memories and the pain that goes with them, despite them being steeped in joy, and Christmastime will transform and evolve. Trying to hold together what it was on my own will only devalue it. It is a precious chapter in a much longer book.

So, here’s to the angel who will bear witness to the different and anchor the old. As we begin our march to the longest night, and embrace the many celebrations of light, take a minute to think about what you treasure. And for those of us who have lost, what will be different this year?

Father, storyteller, observer, and philosopher. Now learning to live with grief.