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My father’s last Christmas

My father's last Christmas

Today was spent paying bills and working on not taking any of this years mess into next year. And the Christmas Tree lights were left on all day.

And today I didn’t write or think. I just did.

I wrote our credit card number from our Health Savings Account onto pieces of paper and then stuck them into envelopes and put forever stamps on them and free return address labels from some company who wanted us to give them money.

And the day is almost over. It is 10:42 at night. My daughter and I watched a Christmas movie and ate popcorn. I only saw half of the movie because I fell asleep.

And late at night I wonder why I am sad.

I wonder why two days before Christmas I don’t feel joy thinking about Christmas being in two more sleeps.

And then I remember.

My father’s last Christmas. 1997.

He was dying. He asked my brother and I to come home. We both came back to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. My brother drove from Edmonton with his wife and two children. My husband and I, with our three-year old daughter, flew  from Illinois.

We wouldn’t have come if he wasn’t dying. We paid for our flights with a credit card, and kept paying years after he died the following March.

And when I think of him that last Christmas the only memory I have is of him sitting on the living room sofa in his black, long sleeve, cotton shirt with the white buttons that was too big on his shrinking frame, and his black pants with the belt buckle he made out of an antler, as he opened the white scarf I made for him on my small metal Leclerc loom. He wrapped the scarf around his neck and said thank-you.

I don’t remember saying good-bye to him, or what we ate for supper, and I don’t remember if he went back in the hospital when we were there, or what anyone else gave him. And I don’t remember what he gave me his last Christmas to give me a present.

I remember the pink high chair he made for me when I was four, that is in the basement where I live now. And I remember how he taught me to always made sure the gun was empty when someone handed it to you. And how when he handed me my gun when we were deer hunting, he laughed when I checked to see if the gun was empty. Of course he would never hand me a loaded weapon, but a rule is a rule even if it is your father handing you a gun.

And I remember how he walked me down the aisle when I got married and he sat in the same room with my mother and her new husband and didn’t say anything.

And I remember when he died in March in 1998 and he knew I was pregnant with my son and he wanted us to name the baby William after him. Between Christmas and him dying  a baby was conceived in Illinois. And I remember it was cold in Canada in Saskatchewan when my father was dying, and he didn’t get to see the ice thaw on the Saskatchewan River.  And I remember the snow crunching under my boots when I walked from the parking lot at the hospital into the main lobby.

And I remember his funeral and the people who came and loved my father.

So two days before Christmas I remember the tree my father hung in our basement on Avenue K, when I hadn’t learned how to read yet, and my brother and I pretended it was Christmas and wrapped  our toys in my doll blankets and placed them under the frozen tree that was trying to thaw while our parents wrapped presents in the kitchen.

And I remember the following summer after my father died when my daughter  bought a blue helium balloon and tied a message  to her Grandfather to it and released it into a vivid blue sky with white clouds because the balloon would get to heaven and her Grandfather would know that she missed him.

And tonight if the party supply store was still open I would go and buy a blue helium balloon and tie a string to it and release it into the black of night with a note tied to it that said, “I miss you Daddy, Merry Christmas.”


Is there someone in heaven you would send a balloon to? Please tell me in the comments. I don’t want to cry alone.

My father and me. 1990

My father and me, 1990



About Pamela Hodges

My name is Pamela Hodges. I am a writer and an artist. I write to encourage and to bring laughter. I paint cats, draw cartoons and write books for children and grown ups.

You are an artist. Yes, you are. Really.

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  • J Stapleton

    I often feel guilty because I cannot seem to remember the last Christmas I spent with my mother. I know that I knew it could be her last with us, as she had cancer; but actual memories of the day seem to hide from me. Thank you for reminding me that I have many other memories of my mom. A beautiful writing…

    • I am so sorry your mother died and sad for you that you can’t remember her last Christmas.
      I read somewhere that the regular days of life blend all together, so her last Christmas with you was one of many ordinary days, and the cancer didn’t overwhelm your last Christmas with her.
      And how nice to have other memories of your mom. Is there a special one you would like to share? Or would you mind showing a picture of your mommy? I would like to meet her.
      Hugs for you.

  • Kaye

    Pamela, often I listen to Mariah Carey’s “I miss you most at Christmas time” as sort of a daddy/daughter dance – where I let myself get lost in missing my daddy. I’m struggling to put my words in order about the wistful nostalgia of the season. Thanks for posting this.

    • Kaye,
      I have never heard this song. I will try and find it and listen to it. I am sorry you are missing your daddy. He must have been a special man. Praying for you tonight as you remember your father.

  • kathunsworth

    Pamela beautiful touching post at this time of year with the empty seats of those we love and miss I know they are with us but yes I miss them all and I love your earliest memories of when you were a little girl. In losing them memories are all we have and yours are painted in rich warm colours loving memories to keep forever.

    • Merry Christmas Kath,
      Thank you for your kind words painted in rich warm colors too.

  • Robn Patrick

    There are way too many people that I miss at Christmas. I was 18 when my father died of tetanus. He died just before thanksgiving and that year I don’t remember much about the holidays at all. I remember the gifts I bought for my mother, trying to make everything right for her, but I don’t remember doing anything else we usually did. Since then so many family members have died and each year the memories become more important somehow.
    Bless you this Christmas as you think about your father. May the memories of good times come to your mind and make you smilel

    • Hello Robin,
      I am sending prayers to you in California as you hold dear the memories of your loved ones who have died. Thank you for thinking about me as I miss my father.
      I am so sorry your father died. You were so kind to try and make everything right for your mother. Sometimes I think the only way to help make it right is to just be there.
      As I clean our my basement full of stuff that I keep to help make things right, I realize stuff doesn’t help. It just gets in the way of moving foreward.
      Hugs to you Robin.

  • 1) Mother
    2) Wife
    3) Father

    I cry every Christmas without shame. (Of course I make sure I’m alone first, does that still count?)

    I deal with it by writing. I have written of all three of them on my regular daily stop, thewritepractice.com by Joe Bunting. Last night I posted a story about one of my father’s (rather harrowing) experiences while serving in the U.S. Army in WWII.

    R.I.P. all.

    • Hello John,
      I pray you feel comforted this Christmas. I am so sorry about the death of your mother, wife and father.
      I wandered over to thewritepractice to read the story about your father. But couldn’t find it. Do you mind sharing the link to where your story is?
      Crying is good for the soul. No need to feel shame. I wish I cried more.
      All the best,

      • Pamela,

        I must apologize for the fact that, in my 3 years or so of self-learning on my computer, I have never figured out how to do links as you request. But if you’ll just “google” thewritepractice.com, look for the article entitled “Christmas Writing Task: Research Family Stories”; and then click on the “Read More” button under the opening paragraph of that article, — my story is on that page, under John Fisher. I’ll be proud to have you read it, and I thank you for your prayers and thoughts in this holiday season.

        John Fisher

  • Stacey Shubitz

    The idea of releasing a balloon up to heaven is such a beautiful sentiment, Pamela. I would love to send them up to my grandparents. I miss them so much.

    The love you have for your father is so evident in your writing. Time does not heal all wounds… I can tell you still miss him greatly (as you should).

    • Hello Stacey,
      I am sorry your grandparents are no longer here to hug. Do you keep some of their traditions alive to remember them by?
      I do miss my father. He was quite a character. He helped me notice things more.
      Hugs to you Stacey. Next year I want to take a trip to Lancaster and meet a friend and her daughter. And a little teddy bear and three chickens.

  • Such beautiful memories. It’s amazing how much the two of you look alike. I bet your mannerisms are pretty similar, too. Your fortunate to have pictures and memories of the past. Come to think of it, my birth father died in February and was buried on Washington’s birthday: the same day my half-sister turned 14. Those memories are sketchy. My adopted mother died December 4 in my home. She was 92. Her memories live on.

    • Hello Shelley,
      I never thought about if my dad and I looked alike. He as just always my dad. Thank you for noticing.
      Do you have pictures of your past? I wonder if God will show you a slide show of you as a child in heaven? I always wondered if He would.
      Did you adopted mother die this year Shelley? How special that you got to be with her in your home.
      Merry Christmas Shelley. I am sending my hugs and good wishes.

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  • Leigh Anne Eck

    What a poignant post. Such wonderful memories you have. Christmas can sometimes be hard when we have lost loved ones. Have a Merry Christmas!

    • Hello Leigh Anne,
      I am finding joy today in my family. Merry Christmas!

  • Your post inspired one I just wrote and published. Thank you.


    • Anne,
      Thank you so much for sharing your post here, and for linking to today’s story.
      I often wonder too what they are doing in heaven. I like the thought of them and me seeing the same stars.
      Hugs for you today Anne as you remember the loved ones who are gone, and as you hold the loved ones who are here.

  • Pamela, this is such a touching post. I always think of my uncle at Christmas. We found out right in the middle of the Christmas prep and celebration of early December that his cancer was terminal. We knew it was a last Christmas, and he died in March. I still have a hard time shaking that at Christmas. It’s a time of joy but a time of great sadness, too.Thinking of you this day…

    • Thank you Stephanie,
      I am thinking of you today too. So sorry for the loss of your Uncle. It makes Christmas more thoughtful. The death of a loved one doesn’t make me sad as much as thoughtful. Remembering and thinking.

  • Kim Prosek Koehler

    Thank you for this piece. My dad has been gone too long and it sits heavier in my heart each year my daughter grows. Your words bring teary filled comfort this morning. Well written and heartfelt. The very best kind of writing. Merry Christmas!

    • Hello Kim,
      Thank you for your kind comments. I am sorry your dad has been gone for so long. I understand the heavy feeling. My youngest two children never had to chance to meet my dad. And my oldest was only three and a half when he died.
      Merry Christmas Kim!

  • La McCoy

    My oldest son was conceived weeks after my mother died. Always wondered about that.

    • Hello Laura,
      Maybe your mother saw your baby in heaven before he came to you. Anne Peterson wrote about that today in her story. Sorry your mommy is dead.

      • La McCoy

        I wondered about that Pamela.

    • It was God’s plan all along. How precious to have a son. What did you name him? My brother named his first daughter Helen, after my daughter Helen. I want to believe that my daughter’s spirit lives on in her.

      • La McCoy

        Hubby named our first son Christopher Ryan. A name he has always wanted to have to his son.

  • Laura LA

    A few years after his baby sister died, my nephew wrote a letter to her on a helium balloon and sent it to heaven. A kind person found it, managed to track him down, and sent him an angel. It was a beautiful gesture.
    I lost both my parents in the last 4 years. I miss them terribly at holidays.

    • Dear Laura,
      Thank you so much for sharing a photograph of your parents. I don’t know why but I am crying as I write this. I pray you find comfort today as you remember your parents. My mom is still living, but it has been three years since I saw her last.
      The person who sent your nephew an angel was probably a real life angel. That is so sweet.
      I want to buy a balloon today. I think I will. A blue one.

    • Laura, your parents have such sweet smiles.

  • margaret simon

    What a tender story told from your heart. I am blessed to have my parents still with me. We will celebrate my father’s 80th with all my family this weekend. However, my father-in-law would have celebrated his 84th on Dec. 21st. I remember him, and my children remember him. This is a time of year to celebrate the people in our lives.

    • Good Morning Margaret.
      You truly are blessed to have your parents with you. Happy Birthday to your daddy. Would you like to share a photograph of your parents?
      I am sorry about the loss of your husband’s father.
      Sending you hugs and love for Christmas.

  • Pamela,

    Thank you for opening your heart and sharing your tender story.

    I would send up a bouquet of balloons. One to my mother, my father, my sister Peggy who was killed, one to my brother Gus who died two years ago and one to my brother Steve who died in February as well as a little balloon to Steve’s two week old son who died of crib death.

    It’s hard to go through the holidays with empty chairs, but I know they are waiting up there and when I get there they will say, “Oh there you are. I was thinking about you.”

    It’s true, life does go on when you lose your loved one, but our lives are forever changed, making us look forward to forever even more.

    • Good Morning Anne,

      Thank you for sharing your loved ones who are gone. So much loss, so many empty chairs.
      I am thankful for your kind words. I love what you said, “Oh there you are. I was thinking about you.”
      And today I am thinking about you Anne. Praying for joy today as you celebrate Jesus, and enjoy your time with your children, husband and grandchildren. ( I think of your childs spouse as your child too)

  • Well your posts are certainly tugging my heart strings of late. I can’t remember much about my Dad’s last Christmas (he died unexpectedly in March 1979). If I could send a balloon, it would be to my father and my mother.

    Blessings, Pamela, and wishing you and your family a Merry Christmas.

    • Good Morning Joan,
      I am sorry you need to send two balloons. Do you have a photograph of your parents you would like to share here, so we can say hello to them today?
      Blessings to you and your family Joan. And a very Merry Christmas.

  • Dearest Pamela, yes I want to sent a blue helium balloon to my daughter, Helen (who died in January 2007 after a disastrous xmas filled with arguements) and to my grandmother, Pat (who died on Christmas Day in 1999) and to my father, Pieter (who died in June 2011).
    I wish my family will rather remember those who died – instead everyone is fighting like cats and dogs. No tolerance at all – just hate and unforgiveness. They are driving me nuts!
    A merry christmas we are not having….

    • Good Morning Patricia,
      I thought of Helen while I wrote this.
      I pray your family would stop fighting like cats and dogs and that you will have a Merry Christmas.
      And I pray you will choose joy and smile even while all around you choose to be bitter. I pray you will not become a cat or a dog yourself. What will you be? A bird? A dove?
      Sending you a hug now.

      • You are up early.
        I am trying my hardest to keep everyone happy – I smile, I am not getting involved. I feel it’s one day that we really should make an effort to be tolerant.
        If I can choose – I’ll be a dolphin. They are always happy and they live in the ocean. Thank you for my hug, I received it – sending you one in return.
        Also thank you for thinking about Helen. Reading your story about your dad, I too thought of her. Christmas will always be sad – yet we can choose to be happy also. The past is gone and cannot be wished back.
        Sitting around with long somber faces – what is the point?
        Blessings to you, Pamela.

        • La McCoy

          A dolphin for a day. Great idea!

          • Hi La. A few days after Helen died we went sailing and dolphins swam alongside the boat. Peace came over me and since that day whenever we sail anywhere and dolphins appear in our bow wave I know we will be safe and we are. I like to believe that something of her lives on in dolphins.

          • La McCoy

            I love that Patricia. I love the marine life also and live as close to it as I can.

    • La McCoy

      Praying for your family on a day i have to deal with relations not of my choosing.

    • Patricia – sending warm thoughts and prayers your way.

  • Abiola Olaleye

    Awww…he’s in a better place now. I definitely would send a balloon to my beautiful mum, she passed away on my birthday 10 years ago; I wrote to her here: http://biolaleye.blogspot.com/2013/12/letter-to-mum.html

    • Good Morning Abiola,
      Ah, your mum died. And on your birthday. Thank you for sharing a story. I will read it now. Do you have a photograph of your mum you would like to share here?

      • Abiola Olaleye

        You made my day with your visit and comment, Pamela. It really took me 10years to come to terms with it all and I only walked away with her pictures stamped upon my heart. Now I think it’s time for me to get some happy pictures. Wishing you and yours a very merry Christmas and a prosperous 2014.

  • Teresa Richardson

    Merry and Blessed Christmas to you and your family, Pamela. I would send a balloon to my Nana, my mom, and my daughter Heather

    • Merry Christmas Teresa,
      I am sorry you have three balloons to let go. Sending you hugs today and wishing you a Blessed Christmas.
      Would you like to share a photograph of your loved ones who died? I would like to meet them here.

  • Alison Alison

    Christmas blessings Pamela ,Pooh and other important family members

    • Good Morning Alison,
      Christmas blessings to you and your family. Thank you for giving me a greeting to wake up to. Pooh says hello.