Merry Christmas

It was just the two of us, seated at dinner. Alone on Christmas night. Dressed in our Sunday best. Candles on the dining table. Choral music playing.

“This is weird,” said my wife, slicing her turkey. “Not having Mother with us.”

“I know.”

“I keep waiting for her to call me on the phone. I keep waiting to wake up one morning and figure out it was all a bad dream, and that she never really died.”


Long silence.

“Is this turkey too dry?” she said.

“Are you kidding? This turkey is so good it’s got an R rating.”

“How about the gravy?”

“I could water ski on this gravy.”

“You like the dressing?”

“I want to use this dressing in the shower.”

She smiled. “Do you recognize the plates that we’re eating off of?”

My wife lifted a dish. It had a simple green Christmas tree painted on it.

“These are your mama’s plates?” I said.

She nodded. “We ate on them every Christmas.” Then she inspected the plate and her eyes began to turn pink.

“And,” she said, “do you notice anything about this blouse I’m wearing?”

“Your mom’s blouse.”

Another nod. “Do you like it?”

“I do.”

“This strand of pearls is hers, too.”


“The perfume I’m wearing, can you smell it?”

“I can. Was that your mother’s, too?”

“Yes. Do you like this perfume? Is it weird that I’m wearing an old woman’s perfume at Christmas?”

“I adore that smell. And there’s no such thing as an old woman’s perfume.”

She covered her mouth. Her head dropped. Her hair fell into her plate. She dropped her fork and her knife, and there was the light sound of sobbing. I stood and went to my wife. I wrapped my arms around her.

“She’s gone,” moaned my wife. “Why can’t I seem to feel that? Why do I keep thinking she’s still here?”

“I don’t know.”

“Where is she? Is she happy? I don’t want to do this without her. Christmas was her favorite day. I can’t do this.”


“How can an old woman seem so normal and healthy one year, and then just up and die? How? Why do people die? Why, why, why?”

“I don’t know.”

“I called her every single day. She called me every single day. We were best friends. This hurts so bad. I need a Kleenex, I’m getting snot all over your sweater.”

“I don’t care.”

“No. It’s a lot of snot. Get me a Kleenex.”

“It’s fine.”

“No, seriously, there’s so much snot on your sweater, it’s getting all over your khakis. Take off your pants and shirt, let me go run them through the wash.”

“I am not taking off my trousers and eating Christmas dinner in my underpants.”

Silent crying into my chest for several minutes. The Vienna Boys Choir sang “Adeste Fideles” in the background. The food was getting cold.

“Do you think she can see me?” said my wife.

“Yes,” I said.

“How can you believe that?”

“I don’t know. I just do. I believe she sees you, and me, and all of us. And I don’t believe she’s really gone. I believe she’s with us, somehow. I believe all our loved ones are with us.”

“You do?”

“I really do. I don’t believe she’s gone any more than I believe big waves on the ocean can truly disappear.

“I believe that waves take shape for a little while, and then they crash into the beach, and then they go back into the ocean. But they never disappear. They are always there. We are not a drop in the ocean. We are the ocean in a drop.”

“Wait. Did you steal that from a Disney movie?”


“Which movie?”

“I don’t remember. I think I heard it on ‘Finding Nemo.’”

My wife pushed her plate away. “That was a good movie.”

“Most underrated Disney flick of all time. Second only to ‘Apple Dumpling Gang.’”


She said, “Do you think Mother knows how much I miss her?”

“I know she does.”

“Do you think I’m crazy for talking to her like I do all the time?”


“Do you think she hears me?”

“I know it.”

“Can we talk to her now? You and me?”

My wife and I both bowed our heads. And the weight of holiday grief sort of pressed downward on my shoulders. My wife squeezed my hand.

“Dear God,” I began. “Please get a message to our loved ones. Please tell them how much we miss them, and how Christmas is not the same without them. And how this world will never be the same without them. And thank you for our lives, God. We are sorry if we don’t appreciate them enough.”

“Amen,” said my wife.


“I love you, Sean.”

“I love you, too, Jamie darlin’.”

“Merry Christmas.”

“Yes. It sure is.”

“Now take off that sweater right now.”


  1. E M Hector - December 26, 2021 7:16 am

    Christmas Angels everywhere. My mom made it to the new millennium. After that, we have shared Angel Food Cake each Christmas. 🎄

  2. Kristi - December 26, 2021 7:36 am

    Beautiful! Thank you for this. This was my mother’s favorite day of the year. I miss her beyond comprehension and it’s a permanent ache. Hugs to your wife.

  3. Amanda F Allen - December 26, 2021 9:16 am

    The communion of saints is a challenging concept. You explain it well. I believe in part of it. Don’t ask me which part of it.
    Your descriptions of vulnerability are poignant, and the reality of these expressions is touching. If we live long enough, most of us will experience some aspects of a blue Christmas. And that’s okay. Celebrations do remain merry, indeed, because experiencing the tastes of bitter AND sweet as they flavor our lives enables us to distinguish the differences. And sometimes, they create a new flavor and experience when combined!
    In addition to the way you capture your poignant and touching moments, you make us laugh on top of it all! Thank you.

    • Susie - December 29, 2021 12:49 am

      Amanda F. Allen, I hear what your saying. As I was reading this one, RIGHT AFTER….. well, ACTUALLY……WHILE I was wiping tears away, I found myself chuckling at the next sentence! Wow! And I had an immediate realization: Can Sean write…..OR WHAT!?!? Now THAT’S a TALENTED writer!! Love everything about our Sean! Especially, how he’s such a champion for his freshly grieving, sweet Jamie.

  4. Julie B - December 26, 2021 9:17 am

    Its been five years, come February, since my Mother passed away and I still miss her every day. It doesn’t seem like Christmas without her. We have her lemon cake or my Granny B’s dressing and I guess our relatives are never really gone as long as we are cooking their food or wearing their pearls. Merry Christmas, Sean and Jamie.

  5. Mike - December 26, 2021 11:02 am

    I am thinking of mom and the comments you shared about your mother in law who died recently. My mom loved getting presents and being with family. I think that was because her mom gave her away when she was small. Thankfully, she was raised by a goos Christian family. She always placed others, and their needs, before her own. She was 92 when she died. My brother found her slumped over in her recliner. She was rushed to the hospital and placed on life support. When I arrived, I informed the doctor that she had requested that she not be placed on life support. He said, “she is just breathing lightly but only because we have her on the ventilator. She won’t live but about fifteen minutes after we unhook her.” We said our goodbyes, kissed her and told her how much we loved her and what a good mom she was. They unplugged everything and she died fourteen hours later. She was a fighter who had been through mant tough times in life but would not give up. Merry Christmas, Mom. I wish I were more like you. Your loving son, Mike

  6. Paul McCutchen - December 26, 2021 12:57 pm

    I had to bring out the Kleenex for this one. I have been reading you for so long it feels like I lost a family member. God bless you and Jamie. May you have a happy holiday.

  7. THERESA MEYER - December 26, 2021 1:43 pm

    Thank you for being so honest and raw about yours and Jamie’s grief. I know we still miss my mom who passed in 2017. Holidays are never the same but eventually you find new ways to make them special. I believe that as much as it hurts, the void left is a testament to the love shared with those we’ve lost. My dad and I talk about your column and it gives us a chance to say we still miss her. Hugs to you and your wife.

  8. Letty - December 26, 2021 2:24 pm

    You stirred my missing moments with my dear parents. And, yes, I also believe we are a part of a wave, some ready to splash on the beach and some just building the swell, but we are all in the drop of it all.
    Thank you, Sean, for sharing this significant moment of grief with us today.

  9. Gayle Dodds - December 26, 2021 2:25 pm

    This is so poignant. I lost my husband in November 2019 it doesn’t seem to get easier just harder during these holidays. I am so glad you still have each other to help with the pain. God bless

  10. Tammy S. - December 26, 2021 2:40 pm

    I believe too. Give Nana the biggest hug for us. And sweet Mrs. Mary. Not the same without them here.

    Thinking of you and your precious, Jamie! We love you both!! Merry Christmas!!!

  11. Stacey Wallace - December 26, 2021 2:45 pm

    Thanks, Sean. I’m so sorry; the first Christmas without your loved one is the toughest. Prayers that each day gets easier for y’all. Love you both.

  12. Cindy - December 26, 2021 2:50 pm

    Sean – As you know the first Christmas is hard….actually the first “anything” is hard when you are missing someone that you love. But with each passing year, the waves of sadness aren’t so big, and eventually they turn into sweet memories that put a big smile on your face and in your heart. If our loved ones believe in God, remember that they miss you, but they like heaven more, and will wait until the time is right for you to come too. Merry Christmas and Happy 2022.

  13. Jackie - December 26, 2021 3:06 pm

    Those were my thoughts and feelings this year on Christmas Day too. I lost both my parents in the last few months. And I keep thinking I’ll wake up and it will be a dream. I talk to them all the time, I hope they know how much I miss them.

  14. Rita Ray - December 26, 2021 3:19 pm

    My husband died December 29, 2019. When I read your words about grief, I cry with you. Grief is horrible. But, how blessed we are that we had someone who is so hard to say goodbye to. That is Love. God bless you both.

  15. Shelton A. - December 26, 2021 3:21 pm

    My Dad loved Christmas. He was agnostic but he loved Christmas. It’s been 35 Christmases since he passed on and I still miss him. I talk to him occasionally still (sometimes in my head, sometimes out loud). The first Christmas, birthday and all the other important days were the hardest. But it does get easier after those go by. I pray you and Jamie will get through these first days without too many more reminders. A few are more than enough. God bless you and know you both are loved by God and by all of us. Lean into the love when you need to…it does help. Best wishes for an easier 2022.

    • Susie - December 28, 2021 7:59 pm

      Shelton, my Dad also loved Xmas. His mother and aunt were pretty religious, (perhaps what eventually turned him off??), but told “sweet” little Xmas stories to him when he was young, so he had those “sweet” childhood memories. They were VERY religious, to a point where it most certainly caused him to question his beliefs as an adult. BUT, I smiled……..and still do……when I think of dad sharing with me his aunt’s reason for the most beautiful sunsets around Xmas time , “Why, honey, those are the fires from the Angels’ ovens! They’re baking Xmas cookies!” Now, that’s just plain SWEET. Whether ya believe….or not. 😉

  16. Robin McDonald - December 26, 2021 3:26 pm

    Christmas isn’t the same without my beautiful mama. She died in March. I am just getting through it. It was her fave holiday. Hopefully it gets better. 💜😇

  17. beachdreamer1 - December 26, 2021 3:41 pm

    God bless you both!

  18. Susan Wolf - December 26, 2021 4:10 pm

    We all miss our mamas and grandmas right now. The downside of growing old is you have a lot of lived ones on the other side. The upside is lots of little children if your kids married right.

  19. Linda H - December 26, 2021 4:44 pm

    I have tears in my eyes as I read this because you verbalized exactly how I feel about my mom (and dad) every, single day. Dad has been gone 35 years and mom will have left us 5 years ago this coming May. I do believe they are with us … all the time … standing by our sides and helping us navigate through life just as they did when they were here physically. Yes, I talk to them … out loud sometimes. If that makes me crazy so be it. It feels good and I don’t plan to stop. Merry Christmas to all my family in Heaven … you are missed very much here on earth.

    • Susie - December 29, 2021 12:33 am

      Linda H, I talk to my mom and dad all the time, always out loud. Makes me feel close to them and I enjoy sharing all that’s new about my life with them that I know they would love to hear. They were my champions. Dad’s been gone now for 27 years and mom for 10. No, we are definitely NOT crazy, just more sane than some. 😂👍

  20. Linda H - December 26, 2021 4:46 pm

    Sean ~ My family has a tradition of setting a plate setting at each Holiday table for those who are no longer with us. It makes us feel like they are still with us and I truly believe they are.

  21. Linda Moon - December 26, 2021 5:23 pm

    Most Christmases it’s just the two of us. Yesterday’s was not one of them. When I read what your wife said my thoughts became silent, and then became tears as I continued to read. After a break from reading and wiping tears, I read to the end and eventually laughed out loud. I love you two, so wear clean sweaters and keep them on if I show up somewhere for a hug or two.

  22. Lisa Perkins - December 26, 2021 6:45 pm

    Having just lost my mom and oldest brother in the last few months, my heart goes out to Jamie. Your post made me cry hard. My mom lived with us for the last 12 years. We were best friends and did everything together. My brother and I were best friends too. I know eventually the sting of loss will ease a bit, but it takes a long time. I still miss my dad 16 years later. I pray that your fond memories of her help heal your and Jamie’s hearts.

  23. Becky+Souders - December 26, 2021 8:23 pm

    Wonderful piece, Sean Dietrich. I spent a lot of time yesterday missing my seven-years-gone husband. You helped. But you are wrong about old women’s perfume; there really is such a thing and mostly it’s just because there’s too much of it. 😉 (Maybe our sense of smell isn’t so acute at our age and we’re over-compensating.)

  24. Judy Ramsey - December 26, 2021 8:27 pm

    Christmas without your mother…

    Means you are now she.
    You are the one who creates ‘Christmas’.
    You are the one who honours the traditions
    ensures that the joy is passed down
    as she would have liked.

    But that is hard when you are hurting,
    when you are just a little girl,
    deep down,
    who misses her mama.

    So, be kind to that little girl
    but go forth
    and do what your mother taught you to do…
    Because one thing is for sure,
    she taught you well.

    Donna Ashworth

  25. Debbie g - December 26, 2021 9:16 pm

    Beautiful Judy. And Sean and Jamie love y’all and we are all here with you and love to us all

  26. MAM - December 26, 2021 9:56 pm

    Whenever I’m shopping for gifts, I nearly always find something that makes me think: My mom would have loved that. She’s been gone 16 years now and my dad 30 years, but I still dream about them and think of them often. Not with tears any longer, but just great memories and usually smiles, so that time will come for you and Jamie, Sean. Have faith that your missing family members are well taken care of by God and his angels.

  27. Karen Jeffers - December 26, 2021 10:25 pm

    Beautiful words. I can see you three so well in what you’ve written. You, Jamie and Mother Mary at the table. The Bible talks about a great cloud of witnesses. I believe they see us and are urging us on.
    God bless you.

  28. Gala Harris - December 26, 2021 11:46 pm

    I lost my Mama in October. Your family’s grief for Mrs Mary is familiar and raw like my own. This was a tough holiday. Thank you for sharing your story. It make me feel someone understands my erratic emotions.

  29. Dianne - December 27, 2021 1:30 am

    Thank you, Sean. Brought tears to my eyes. This was my first Christmas without my husband, but I know he is happy where he is, and that he wouldn’t come back here even if he could. I will see him again one day.

  30. Debbie - December 27, 2021 3:21 am

    In our hotel tonight with our 11 year old granddaughter. We lost her Daddy, and our son in August. Matt was also the father of our Cooper who was born three weeks before Matt died. He left a widow also. We have all tried to be so brave, but it is so very difficult. Thanks for sharing the real feelings and challenges of this first Christmas without this son, brother, husband, Dad, Daddy. We are grateful that the first is almost over, but will forever rejoice in having him in our lives.

  31. Robert L Chiles - December 27, 2021 8:03 pm

    Those who love much, grieve much.

  32. Helen De Prima - December 27, 2021 10:46 pm

    I lost my aunt/mom/best friend just two weeks before Christmas 25 years ago. I still miss her like crazy. I hope she knows.

  33. Suzi - December 27, 2021 11:05 pm

    Sean, you had posted a picture of Jamie in the red sweater, pearls and red lipstick🦋Mother Mary at the table

  34. Lavenda - December 28, 2021 12:21 pm

    Man no fair..I got snot all over my sleeping shirt…I really hope you had a great Christmas Jamie. I lost my mom 25 years ago…she was my best friend. It still hurts. I still miss her everyday not just holidays. It gets easier to deal with the empty hole.

  35. Dawn Perez - January 2, 2022 3:39 pm

    Thank you for this story (I love them all, but this one hit home to me) I lost my Mom in August and this Christmas was so very hard. Give your wife my condolences. A girl is just not the same without her Mom. One minute she was here, and the next she wasn’t. I can’t wrap my head around it sometimes and when I do it’s agonizing. Thank you for your beautiful stories.
    Dawn Perez


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