Dear Sean

We were going through the motions, doing what regular people are supposed to do during December. Gifts, festive music, cheap decor, blah, blah, blah.


My husband died three years ago this February, and I know you grew up underneath the same shadow with your father. My son is fourteen, I’m afraid he will never have any joy whatsoever again.

More than anything, I want his Christmas to be awesome, but I am at a complete loss. Does it ever get any better?



Decades ago. The downtown was decorated with tinsel and little plastic bells hanging from streetlamps. Santa and his reindeer were strung across the rooftops of Mainstreet.

The fiberglass Santa had his right hand outstretched in a perpetual wave to passerbyers. Though, something was very wrong with Santa. Very, VERY wrong.

But more about that later.

Anyway, I was in town with my mother. We were shopping for the holidays.

My father had died a few years earlier. My mother was not the woman she used to be. She was sad. So was I.

Also, I had gained roughly fifteen pounds that year because I was, and still am, an emotional eater. This is why football season continues to wreak havoc on my body. Also, I have had a lifelong love affair with Chili Cheese Fritos.

That holiday season felt like torture. Everyone else was happy, but not us. We couldn’t laugh, joke, or crack smiles.

We were going through the motions, doing what regular people are supposed to do during December. Gifts, festive music, cheap decor, blah, blah, blah.

That day in town, my mother turned me loose in the department store. I had fifteen dollars to spend on friends, foes, and kin.

Oh, how times have changed. Today, fifteen bucks wouldn’t even buy an iPhone charger.

I wandered through the store with no idea how to spend my money. After all, why should I care about stuffed animals, jars of pepper jelly, barrels of popcorn, or cheap perfume? The world was falling apart.

I found my mother in the checkout aisle. I approached her with empty hands. I gave the fifteen dollars back to her.

“You’re not gonna buy anything?” she said.

“No, ma’am.”



We wandered outside. I carried bags of gifts she’d bought. We strolled the sidewalk at a snail’s pace.

That’s when we noticed a small crowd, gathered beneath the fiberglass Santa suspended over the street. People were pointing, hands over their mouths, snickering.

My mother started laughing when she saw what they were pointing at.

It was vandalism. A local high-schooler named Marty Daniels would go down in history for removing all Santa’s fingers with hedge clippers, except for the middle finger.

Kris Kringle appeared to have bad case of road rage.

My mother stared at Santa’s obscene gesture, aimed at all God’s creatures. Her laughter became uncontrollable.

The dam inside us broke. We both laughed until our stomachs hurt. She howled so hard she had to lean against a shop window and cover her face. I almost became incontinent.

She dropped her bags, chest heaving with each cackle. And I pressed my face into her chest. Our laughter turned into crying.

We held each other like a couple of fools. And after a few moments, we realized people were staring at us. They were congregated on the sidewalk, no longer looking at Santa, but at us.

Of course, they knew why we were crying. They probably knew more about my family than I did.

My mother wiped her tears, and faced her spectators. But she couldn’t contain that laugh. She glanced at Santa and started again. So did I. So did the others. We all laughed.

Then, a few people took turns hugging us. They wrapped their arms around my mother and me, one at a time, placing cold cheeks against ours. They whispered things like: “I’m praying for you,” and “Call me if you need anything.”

This embarrassed me so bad I almost slinked away and hopped a train for Greenland. The last thing anyone wants is pity. But every time I looked at Santa, my sadness turned into humor.

That night at supper, my mother started giggling about it all over again. This time we laughed so hard we couldn’t finish eating. Our hysteria ended in an full-body embrace. And lots of tears.

And I’ll never forget what my mother said:

“God, I miss the way we used to laugh.”

That year, instead of repairing Santa’s fingers, community officials placed a baseball glove over his defiled hand. My mother and I still talk about it today. And we still chuckle.

Nothing I can write will make your life even one ounce better. I don’t know if your Christmas will be merry this year.

But I do pray for you. I mean it. I pray you will remember good things instead of bad. I pray that you find a way to smile, and relearn how good laughter feels.

And above all, I pray Saint Nick doesn’t shoot the bird this year.

It really does get better.


  1. Pamela McEachern - December 12, 2018 8:01 am

    This got to me, I have laughed so hard I could not read the story, and I am still laughing that goofy laugh when you just can’t stop. I adore your way of telling stories and getting everyone to stop for a moment and just be in the sheer beauty that a special time can bring. Thank you Sean I dont think I will ever be able to see plastic Santas the same.

    Peace and Love from Birmingham ?

  2. GaryD - December 12, 2018 9:35 am

    I’ve been in this wheelchair for sixteen years. Sometimes I get so sad. So very sad. Then I’ll read your stories, Sean. Thanks. You’ve brightened my life.

  3. Arthur Portas - December 12, 2018 10:22 am

    My eyes leaked.
    Thank you.

  4. Cathi - December 12, 2018 10:27 am

    Sean, going through the motions this year too and your story made me laugh. Thank you. I can’t even wish that karma caught up with Marty because at least his stupidity served you & your mom a good purpose. My prayer is that the wounded find solace and peace during Christmas and you, Jamie, Thel & Otis have a most blessed Christmas.

  5. Heidi - December 12, 2018 12:22 pm

    God bless Marty Daniels….he lives on in infamy, bringing joy to many. God bless all those that miss their loved ones.
    This was another great one Sean.

  6. Karen - December 12, 2018 12:35 pm

    My daughter’s husband died unexpectedly, 3 days after Christmas. She and my three year old grandson were waiting for their new baby to be born. When I arrived from several states away, there were jolly snowmen tumbling on the shelves and colored lights on the tree.
    For years afterward, they would begin furiously preparing for holidays, beginning in October. Theirs would be the most decorated house, with elaborate details. They looked for every holiday event, every distraction they could find. It was like they got on a train every fall and headed faster and faster, until they crashed into Christmas. They tried fervently not to be sad. There was no escape. Grief always caught up with them. My grandson is 15 now, and his baby sister is nearly 12. My daughter has a new partner and another 3 year old son. They have transitioned into a life where they find joy and laughter. They no longer get on the grief train.
    It is different for everyone. Thank you for explaining that in terms everyone can understand.

  7. Steve Winfield - December 12, 2018 12:55 pm

    This story couldn’t be any better. I can’t help but wonder what became of Marty Daniels. God bless you & your family this Christmas.

  8. thelifeoflylabeth - December 12, 2018 2:12 pm

    Once again, your story brought tears, but this one made me sob. For too many reasons, Christmas is a very sad time for me. Keep sharing with us Sean. You’ll never know how much it means.

  9. Bev deJarnette - December 12, 2018 3:26 pm

    Oh so true! Laughter does begin to heal a broken heart ?——and hugs ALWAYS help?

  10. Shelton A. - December 12, 2018 4:47 pm

    Great story..,glad you found laughter again. God bless…

  11. Edna B. - December 12, 2018 6:02 pm

    What a beautiful story. It’s true, laughter and hugs can help you get through most anything. That and family and good friends. You have a wonderful day, Sean. Hugs, Edna B.

  12. Jeanette McElroy - December 12, 2018 7:38 pm

    You always brighten my day! I found myself smiling from ear to ear. Thank you!

  13. Brenda Nowicki - December 12, 2018 8:07 pm

    Sean, I’m sharing this for all who have lost loved ones! I don’t think I know anyone who hasn’t.

  14. Debbie - December 12, 2018 8:19 pm


  15. dogsdolls - December 13, 2018 1:07 am

    my loss is not nearly as tragic as yours or the woman who wrote you..but it has affected my holiday spirit this year and your story made me smile. Thank you.

  16. Gwen Monroe - December 13, 2018 7:58 pm

    I just want to say that I think you’re precious.

  17. Nancy Hall - December 14, 2018 12:58 am

    How do you just what to write at just the right time? Timing could not have been more perfect.

  18. Brenda McLaine - December 14, 2018 12:43 pm

    I think this is the best one of ALL.


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