Surviving the Holidays: Remembering loved ones

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As a child, Christmas was my favourite. I loved the decorations and spending time with my family, especially my mother and grandmother. Growing up, I loved them both equally. My mother was fun and loving and often like a big sister, while my grandmother and I were close like a mother and daughter.

Last year was the first Christmas without my Grandmother; she died on January 14th 2013. We came home from the hospital to a house that still had lights and a tree. Almost two years have gone by, and I cry when I say that she has died.

Facing the holidays without a loved one is terrible, but it becomes so much more so when the relationship was centered on that holiday. To say that our relationship centered on Christmas sounds strange, but it’s true.

Growing up, Christmas was my favourite time of year. My mother and I would spend days decorating our house and then days decorating my grandmother’s house. Both would be trimmed head to toe in Christmas lights (you never saw a lamp or overhead light on in December). There were big holiday dinners and lots of time spent with family.

I have, in my brain, our entire family history through Christmas ornaments. Whose mother-in-law it came from, how many generations back we’ve owned it. My knowledge of Christmas extends into my knowledge of our family history as well, since every time we went hunting for an ornament or rearranged for the holidays, photo albums came out and I was taught every person’s face, even if it was just an uncle’s friend who came for dinner that one time. My Grandmother and mother shared with me during these times not only the history of our Christmas ornaments but family history.

I’m lucky: my first Christmas without my grandmother came right after a major life change involving relocation and was the first Christmas with a significant other. Even though it had been a year since her death, I was still heartbroken and in that year, my Christmas changed completely. Instead of a big sit down dinner on Christmas Eve, I have an aunt who hosts the same family members but in a different house and with appetizers, and goodies galore. Christmas last year sparked the beginning of a new tradition with my other half – we agreed Christmas Eve for my family, Christmas Day for his grandmother and Boxing Day with his mother.

For some people, so much change following a loss can leave you feeling more lost. For me, the only way to enjoy Christmas was remove from it so many of the ties to the past. And yet, I still hold onto bits and pieces.

I recently purchased a set of Christmas ornaments off eBay that match a set my grandmother had. Through the long journey of finding the ornament, I was once again back in her living room, being told this history of the ornaments. Instead of colourful people stories of where they came from, the stories I learned this year were about brands and dates. I discovered things about my grandmother that I didn’t know. Like that she preferred a certain brand of ornaments.

I’ve been told by family and friends that I’m lucky I got so much of my Grama. That she shared stories about herself and her family, about growing up and her life with me so easily should make me feel blessed. And it often does.

My grandmother’s decorations were scattered. Pieces here and there. I see them now and then, and I may tear up but I hold fast. The bulk of the tree ornaments have been stored by my mother until she moves into a larger space where a full tree can be erected. Some people hate that they can’t see my grandmother’s tree again in one piece. To them, the tree is a centrepiece to their childhood happiness that they miss and they wish we could rebuild it each year for everyone to enjoy.

For me, I am glad that they are the way they are. I wish they were mine, on my tree. I so selfishly wish that everything she owned belonged to me. But the truth is, I am glad that we all got a part of her. I am glad that the ornaments will never stand together on one tree. Because even if we kept her tree, and placed every ornament on it, it would never be whole. The tree would always be lacking the heart and soul of it. The voice telling you what ornament belongs where and who bought it for whom.

As the years go by, we will all build our own families. Spouses, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren. Nieces, nephews, and great ones too. We will take our ornaments, and our small piece of her and build up our lives. Our trees will all have heart and soul. And one day, we will be the voice telling the children what ornament belongs where and who bought it for whom.

—- Jane



A Woman Who Inspires Shari



We’ve themed this blog series “Women Who Inspire”. In honour of Women’s History Month, we asked you Ugly Ducklings which women inspire you and why. We have some really great, inspiring responses to share with you. Today’s post is by Shari and we are so happy she wrote into us. Check out her story below:


My grandmother survived the second World War which is a big deal to me. She lost her husband years ago and she still talks about him like he’s just at work. I know she misses him but she’s a good actor. I never get to know him but my grandmother really admires him so he must have been a great man. I think if you’d ask me about real love, that would be my example.

My grandmother moved to Spain 18 years ago. She lived there with her husband and her dogs. She is an independent woman and so brave! She didn’t even knew the language but she learned it! She made her dream come true to live there while others are mostly there on vacation. After one of her dogs died and she became more and more weak, she decided to move back to us.

My grandmother has two children: my dad and my uncle. She managed it to go to work as one of the first women in our village and educate her children. She always tells me that she always was jealous because the other kids had new things and she didn’t because her parents bought the house I’m still living in. But she accepted it.

When you meet my grandmother, you first thought is what a wise woman she is. Whatever problem I have, I can ask her about it 2014-03-23-12-46-31_decoand she’ll know the answer. And I’m not the only one thinking that: two of my cousins lost contact with their mum so they have no one to ask those questions. On weekends, they usually come over and my grandmother cooks for all of us and talks about her past and about our future.

And the best thing my grandmother is that she and I share the passion for old things and keeping things that may be important someday. We keep nearly everything that seems useful for the future.

Two days ago, I told her that I just finished reading a book. Right after I told her, she led me to her old cupboard. She opened the doors and I saw so many books! An hour later I went back home with four more books to read: a book about the universe, about heaven, about the Shaolin monks and about the world war.

You may be thinking she’s a Grandma like every other Grandma but I don’t think so. She’s the one who always makes you laugh but also the one to caution you when you do something wrong. She’s the one who has an open ear and a shoulder to lean on. She’s the one who always knows the answer and has a realistic opinion about everything.
She’s my grandmother and my inspiration.

Shari is 14 years old and lives in a cute little village in Germany where she is still attending school. She says, “If I had to choose if I’m an Ugly Duckling or a Swan I wouldn’t know what to choose yet. I think I’m somewhere between …” She has faith in happy endings and knows that if everything is still bad, it can’t be the end yet.

We want to thank Shari for sharing her story with us about the woman who inspires her the most. Be sure to leave comments for Shari below and check back tomorrow for our next “Women Who Inspire” blog!

A message from Mariah…


This past week has been the worst week in my short 20 years of life.

For those of you who don’t know, on Thursday July 18th I lost my Nana to cancer.  It was the worst day of my life.  Upon hearing that she had passed, my heart sank. I felt as though part of it had been ripped out, and that my world was coming to an end.  I dreaded having to go to her funeral because it meant having to say goodbye.

On the morning of the funeral I sent out a message on Facebook and Twitter, asking for thoughts and prayers to help me get through it.  I entered the funeral home and took my seat.  I listened as the pastor talked about my Nana, and although he said a lot of encouraging and wonderful things about her, he would never know her like I did.  We headed to the cemetery to finish the service and to say our final goodbyes.  I watched as they lowered her casket into the ground and my heart sank even more.  Our last event of the day was a dinner at our church, and even though I was surrounded by family I still felt alone.

When I finally made it home I went into my room and turned on my computer. I opened up my email and saw an Ecard that some of the Ugly Ducklings had sent me.  I began to cry at reading their beautiful messages, and felt like all of my problems had disappeared.  It was in that moment I realized although I lost someone, I also gained something as well, and that is a family.  The Ugly Ducklings are my family and they have been by my side through this entire ordeal. They have offered more comfort than some of my own family and have even put a smile back on my face.

My advice to those who are going through a tough time in life is that the Ugly Ducklings will help you through it.  They are the most wonderful and caring people I have ever met, and cannot believe what they have created based off a tweet that Jennifer Morrison made. Every day I look forward to seeing what new things they are coming up with and I am proud to be a part of this life changing movement. They have helped realized that I am more than a duckling; I am a beautiful Swan, and no matter what life throws at me I will always have a family and will never be alone.  I am home.

*Mariah has recently joined the leadership of Ugly Ducklings Inc as the resource assistant. If you’d like to leave her a message of support, please do so by commenting on this post.