My grampa is not with us any more, he is been really sick last week and now it’s all over. I don’t know what I’ll do now he’s dead, since he was always my best friend. I really don’t know why I’m tellin you all this, but you seem like it’s ok to do.

Thank you,


If you get nothing else out of my feeble words, please remember my next sentence because I believe your grandfather would want you to know this:

You’re going to be okay.

Now, I don’t know how long this process will take. And I don’t know when it will begin. But the main thing to know is that today is not the end.

When I was your age, after my father died, I made a weird discovery about people. You’re going to think this is absolutely ridiculous, but I’m going to tell you about it anyway. And I do this for a very important reason. To meet my total word count.

As a kid I noticed that whenever people asked other people how they were doing,

they always answered from a list of five basic responses.

So let’s pretend someone asks you the following question:

“How are you?”

Take a moment to think about how you might answer this question right now. Within our culture, here are the five basic answers:

—Not too good.
—I’m fine.
—I’m okay.
—Doin’ pretty good.
—I’m great.

These are deceptively simple responses, but they’re deeper than you might think. And the reason I share these with you is because I suspect you land somewhere on this informal scale right now.

Let’s start with the first: “Not too good.”

This is the most uncommon response. Which is a shame, because it’s often the truth.

When someone asks how you’re doing, people rarely EVER answer, “Not too good.” We humans are…

To the child we never had. I am writing to you today because it is my wedding anniversary. And I get reflective on days like this. On each anniversary I usually feel the overwhelming sensation that I have won the Florida Lotto. Because in many ways I have.

You see, I am still very much in love with your mother after these years of marriage. And I don’t know how I found this proverbial lucky lottery ticket. But what can I say, kid? Sometimes in this life you actually win.

At one time we’d even hoped to have a son or daughter. But alas, nobody can win all the time. Thus, you exist only within my imagination.

Although I still love you a lot. And if you were here, seated on my knee, that’s exactly what we’d talk about. Love. I'd tell you everything I know about it. Because my biggest beef with my own species is that we get love all wrong.

Take me. For the first half of my life

I had no idea what the stuff was. Which is a downright tragedy. How come other creatures within the animal kingdom seem to comprehend romantic love better than we humans do?

Canada geese mate for life. Wolves do too. And whales have such elaborate courting rituals they make humans appear as sensitive as Pop Tarts.

And yet we write huge novels about love. Movies are made about it. Trillions of songs are penned about it. People are constantly trying to understand it, grappling with it, fighting for it, chasing it, or struggling to believe in it.

But somehow we still get it all wrong.

As you grow (hypothetically, of course) the first falsity they’ll teach you about romantic love is that it’s all about good looks. This is drilled into kids’ heads from infancy. Boys are taught to go looking for Jayne Mansfield, and girls are sent out…


I’ve been reading your stuff for a while now... And I wanted to offer a gentle word from one author to another.

Please take a break from themes involving COVID-19, I suspect other people like me are getting sick of you writing about it. Truthfully it is getting very old. Just a little professional advice.

Thank you,


Well, the first thing I owe you is an apology. I am sincerely sorry. This is quite embarrassing, and I feel ridiculous because what you say is absolutely true. I freely admit it.

So do you know what I did today?

I heeded your professional advice. That’s right. Today, keeping with your smart suggestion, I tried NOT to think about COVID-19. Not even once. To distract myself I went Christmas shopping at a local store.

No sooner had I pulled into the store’s parking lot than I was forced to wait in a long line of cars. Because, you see, the storefront is closed to physical shoppers and person-to-person business.

Luckily, my wife had

already shopped online, so all I did was pick up our order. It was easy. An employee wearing a clear plastic Darth-Vader-style face shield opened my vehicle door and placed bags into my backseat.

This is called “touchless” shopping. No money exchanged hands. There were no smiles. Not even a “Merry Christmas.” The employee only said, “Stay safe.”

“Safe?” I chuckled. Obviously this employee hadn’t read your helpful email. So I informed her that people are “sick” of “themes involving COVID-19,” and that this was all getting “very old,” so she should quit harping on it. I told her this was my professional advice.

She took it well. I hope insurance will cover my shattered windshield.

Next, I went to a favorite lunch spot, a place I’ve been frequenting for years. But, sadly, they’re closed and the building is for sale. Turns out…

It’s early evening. A canned choir is singing in our living room. The stereo plays “In Dulci Jubilo,” and the Cambridge Singers sing:

“In dulci jubilo,
“Nun singet und seid froh,
“Unsers Herzens Wonne…”

My eyes keep landing on our little Nativity set, which is on our sofa table. Because after all, this is what the choir is singing about.

The manger scene’s plastic shepherds are kneeling. Mary looks exhausted. The wisemen are holding Monopoly game pieces because I lost their gifts when I was 9 years old. Poor Joseph has been severely disfigured by dogs who mistook him for a chew toy.

“Leit in praesepio,
“Matris in gremio.
“Alpha es et O…”

My mind is stuck in ancient times. I am thinking about when mankind wrote these choral melodies, during the age of sheep-tallow candles and burlap tunics. Back when your average working stiff had a life expectancy of 31 years, and people’s phones couldn’t even shoot decent video.

These songs belong to our ancestors. Songs like

“Lumen Hilare,” ”Adeste Fideles,” “Veni Emmanuel,” “Jesus Refulsit Omnium.”

You might not recognize the titles, but you’d know the melodies. Some tunes predate the plow, Greek fire, the printing press, and the Dave Clark Five.

“Jesus Refulsit Omnium” was composed in 336 AD.

“Veni Emmanuel” traces its origins backward 1,200 years.

“Adeste Fideles” harkens to the seventeenth century.

But “In Dulci Jubilo” is my favorite. It was first introduced in 1328, and would have been chanted by monks while a Bubonic Plague was making a serious attempt to wipe out the human race.

Somehow these ancient Yuletide carols have lasted and are our link to early man. Amazingly these chants survived for millennia without transistor radios, LP records, or eight-track cassettes. How? Kingdoms arose and fell. The horse and buggy gave way to the ‘76 Chevette. And Western humans are still singing archaic lyrics about something that happened…

It’s a big place. Lots of rooms. Beeping medical machines. Doctors with charts. The pediatric oncology ward is decorated with plastic holly and greenery for the season. Loud TVs in the kids’ rooms play various holiday movies.

There are some great kids here.

Like 6-year-old Jessie, who just wants to sing. It’s her mission in life. To sing. Ask her what she wants to be when she grows up. “A singer,” she tells the nurses. Cancer has not robbed this child of her song.

The nurses say that life in this ward has been hard since COVID. The virus adds to everyone’s stress. The new protocols, the extra personal protective gear, the beefed up preventative measures. All these kids have compromised immune systems, and this is a global pandemic.

But nurses and doctors are careful not to talk too much about pandemic-related headlines. Not here. There’s no need.

“These families have enough junk to deal with,” says one medical worker. “Our job is to administer help, and if possible, lots of hope.”

So the nurses have

been singing a lot this Christmas season, teaching the kids lyrics to the Yuletide favorites, like “Deck the Halls,” “The First Noel,” and “Away in a Manger,” which happens to be Jessie’s favorite song.

“Can we sing about the little baby with the mange?!” Jessie often shouts.

“It’s not mange!” one of the nurses usually answers with a laugh. “It’s MANGER!”

And the nurses always oblige once they have a minute. At night sometimes, a nurse will stand beside the child’s bed and deliver impromptu concerts for the girl. Jessie usually joins the merriment herself.

Which is one of the things you lose in here, merriment. You also lose a sense of Christmas altogether. Many parents say that when cancer strikes your house, Christmas immediately feels like a big sham.

After all, it’s just another calendar day. What the heck makes Christmas any different…

I got a letter from 20-year-old Shawna, who is recovering from a case of COVID-19 that briefly landed her in the hospital. She is at home on the mend now, but remains stuck in bed for days, drinking gallons of her aunt’s chicken broth.

She wanted to know if I could recommend any Christmas movies to help pass the time.

The first thing to say, Shawna, is that I’m no expert. Most of my favorite movies are considered to be deader than ragtime. Secondly, I don’t have enough room to list them all here, but I’ll hit the big ones.

I begin with “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” which debuted in 1965, and aired every year throughout many people’s childhoods. I’ve been watching this program since I wore rubber underpants and chewed on furniture.

Coincidentally, the Charlie Brown special almost didn’t air on TV this season after a streaming service bought the rights to the program. This would have been a tragedy.

Thankfully, PBS swooped in at the last minute and secured the rights to

air the Charlie Brown special. I’ve never been so grateful to see a show saved from oblivion; the annual Peanuts broadcast was the apex of kid-dom.

Which reminds me, I don’t know how we did it back then, planning our lives around live network TV. It was a wholly different world before streaming services.

Instead of on-demand movies, for example, we had Mama. Mama would consult the newspaper broadcast-schedule with a ferocious eye, weeks in advance, scanning for television shows. Then she would plan our entire liturgical calendar year around “Facts of Life,” “The Love Boat,” and “Magnum P.I.”

Also, today you have the pause button, which has ruined everything. Long ago, back in the Middle Ages, nobody paused anything. People just let their bladders rupture.

We even used to watch the commercials. Like the one where Mister George Whipple, a perpetually frustrated supermarket manager warns…

Her elderly father sits in a wheelchair in front of a television. It’s an old console TV. The kind every American family had back in the early 80s. A big bulbous screen. An archaic remote that looks like a gadget from a James Bond movie and probably interferes with air traffic. There’s a fancy flat screen sitting on top of the old television, blaring a daytime talk show. He doesn’t move a muscle.

It’s been a very hard year.

She is mid-fifties. Pretty. She sits on the sofa next to him. She talks to him. He can hear her, but he doesn’t say much in return. He grunts occasionally.

“He’s in there somewhere,” she says. “I know it. Every now and then he recognizes me.”

But not often enough. She touches his hand and says, “Daddy, are you ready for lunch?”

He says nothing.

He has Alzheimer’s. He has good days and bad days. She lives with him. And the way it usually works for her is like this:

—When he has a good day, so does she.

—When he

has a bad one, her day stinks.

“It’s just part of the deal,” she says. “When you’re a caregiver, you spend every waking moment in his world, wiping his face, brushing his teeth, I bathe him, too. That took some getting used to.”

But this column isn’t about Alzheimer’s. Not really. It’s about the big Douglas fir in the corner.

This Christmas, she sprung for a real tree instead of a phony one. It sits beside his television, covered in lights, ornaments, and golden garland.

They just put it up a few days ago. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing. She bought the tree because this year has been a miserable one. It all started one morning at breakfast when her father said, “Hey, Teresa.”

And he said it just like that. No big deal. Except that this is a big…