Christmas and the Holidays: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

Opening my Christmas stocking at Grandma’s, coping with the first Christmas after the death of my brother, reliving the squeals of joy as my grandson’s exclaim “this is the best present ever!’ when they open every gift. These are the memories of Christmas.   Some haunt us. Some make us laugh. Some remind of us that pieces of our heart have been taken as loved ones are no longer with us, either from the effects of serious health conditions, or because they have passed away. And some memories are of a time when things were “normal” – so far from what they are today.

I’ve been thinking about some of the Christmas’s of my past 55 years and a few memories, happy and sad, stand out. Maybe my memories will help you remember some of your most cherished Christmases, and that when some didn’t go as well as you planned, you were able to find the silver lining.


 “All times are good, if you know what the times are good for.” Kathleen Seeley, The Seeley Group


So, here goes.   What I learned from over 50 Christmases – the good, the bad and the ugly.

When I was growing up one of our traditions was that as soon as we woke up, we could take our stockings and look through them. It was exciting to see what I’d get and when I came to the nuts, Christmas candy and orange in the foot and toe of the stocking, I knew that was the end of the stocking fun. Except for being able to eat candy early in the morning! Now, that was fun.

The rest of the gifts weren’t opened until after we had our big Christmas dinner. One year, as everyone else was in the kitchen, deciding where to sit, I quietly and carefully picked up my gift and lifted up the taped end to peek at it. I was super excited to get fingerpaints! I was also immensely disappointed to not have the excitement and joy of being surprised when opening the gift later. I still shake and man-handle my gifts. I never open them early.

One year the big surprise was a trip to Disneyland in Los Angeles. And surprise it was. I was 9 and this was a wonderful trip. No snow or cold for Christmas, we got to open our presents early, and Disneyland and Universal Studios made it a trip to remember. Great memories for me. For my parents, it was their way to cope with the first Christmas following the death of my brother. You see, it isn’t all bad or all good. It’s what you do with the bad, to find some good, which matters.z

Christmas at my parents’ house often included friends and family. If there was anyone who was alone, and my parents knew about it, they instantly became family and joined us for dinner. It didn’t matter how squished we were around the table. We had “the kids’ table” to make extra room when the kitchen table was overflowing.

The last Christmas with my dad was special. He had been in hospital and acute care for over 4 months and just placed in long term care a few days before Christmas. Thank goodness for handi-transit that worked on Christmas Day because he could be home for our holiday celebration. It just wasn’t enough time for me. I was working in emergency dispatch and worked until 6 pm.   (or was it 4? Did someone come in early for me? Perhaps). Still, when he passed away 3 weeks later, I wished I had been able to spend more of that Christmas with him.

Christmas Day in emergency services is no picnic.   We miss our families and some fun. We are there for the people whose lives are sadly impacted by a crisis. It’s never a good feeling when the 9-1-1 line goes off any day, and especially on Christmas Day.

December 25, 1998, I was sitting in my chair, plugged into my 9-1-1 console by 6 a.m. By 7 am my crew had sent out 5 ambulances. I’d taken hundreds, if not thousands, of 9-1-1 calls during the previous 2 years. That morning, I took one for a response I’d never taken before, and I never took again.

“9-1-1. What’s your emergency?” I asked. The first thing I heard was screams.

The next thing I heard was “The baby’s coming, the baby’s coming!”

Among the 5 people who sadly passed away that day, I was thrilled to be the dispatcher who helped bring a new life into the world. It was a crazy call, full of screams from grandma, screams from mom and the squeal of a new life as she was born. I treasure my pink stork pin as a reminder of the wonder of that moment.




The call even gave me my 15 minutes of fame. I was featured in an article in my local newspaper and in the May 1999 edition of Readers Digest(Canadian Edition.)

It’s not all bad and it’s not all good. It’s what you can take from the bad and make it good.

Reminiscing of Christmas’s past has brought me laughter, joy, sadness and amazement with my persistence at times.   The worries I had that Santa wouldn’t find me at Grandma’s were all for naught, as I found my stocking Christmas morning, nuts, candies, orange and exactly what I asked for from Santa. Memories of having such a limited budget that my teen son, Jamie, asked for Air Jordan shoes, which he got for Christmas. Each shoe was wrapped in it’s own box so he’d have 2 gifts to open. Asking my sister to buy a My Little Pony castle in her city, 2 provinces and 500 miles away, and ship it to me so I could give my daughter, Vanessa, the exact gift she wanted from Santa. I did Christmas shopping in October and November. Not because I was organized and wanted it done. It was the only way I knew to be able to afford it. I would buy everything I could and put it on layaway. Then I’d make monthly payments and pick it up in December when it was paid off. No credit charges. I was also guaranteed to get the hottest toy of the year because I bought it early. Except for the My Little Pony castle and a table hockey game – not sure how I missed getting those early!


I remember one Christmas we were sitting down to our meal. Everyone was happy and excited. As my mom said grace, her lip started to tremble, there was a quiver in her voice, and soon the tears rolled down both cheeks. She said an extra prayer for my cousin who recently had been in a automobile accident, was paralyzed and still in serious condition in hospital. It was a serious moment and one for us to remember there is always room for gratitude, and each of us was grateful my cousin was still alive.

One of the most heartfelt Christmases was in 2008. My husband, Callum, was still dealing with the effects of 2 different types of brain radiation, which kept him tired, and not feeling well. It was also 3 months after hearing from the oncologist that with the spread of cancer to the brain, he could expect to live only another 6 – 12 months. His health appeared to be so poor my biggest hope was that he would still be alive on Christmas Day. Our family pulled together to make this last Christmas the best it could be.

I was behind the video camera, trying to capture as many memories as possible when I noticed my son-in-law Stuart nudge my daughter, Vanessa. They stopped what they were doing to watch Callum open up the gift he had in his lap. Soon everyone had all eyes on Callum as he unwrapped the gift. He held the gift in one hand, and held his head in the other as he sobbed. He lifted up his head, looked at Vanessa and asked “You’re pregnant?”

“Yes,” she said, as the tears rolled down her face.

Grandbaby announcement frame 3

It was surreal. Callum had given up hope that he would live long enough to be a Grandad. This news renewed his will to live long enough to hold his first grandchild. On July 7th, 2009, he stayed up all night so he could hold Cade in his arms. Not only did that little dapper give Callum the will to live to see him born, he lived to see his 2nd birthday.

cal and cade

It’s not all bad and it’s not all good. It’s what you can take from the bad and make it good.

Honour your feelings.

When you feel happy – be happy. You may be surrounded by sadness because your loved one is terminally ill or has long term illness that is taking its toll on them – and you. It’s OK to feel happy and joyful. It’s OK to laugh and savour those moments, however few, of the wonderment and love of the season.

When the sadness creeps in, or washes over you, honour it. Life is not as you knew it, nor is as you ever thought it would be. It’s OK to cry, to wish things could be like they were, to have your loved one back in your life in the way you want them and that you aren’t exhausted from everything you are doing.

The secret is to not “live” in either state when the other one shows up. Resisting what you are truly feeling just puts more pressure on you. It’s far from perfect and nowhere near the lovey dovey, unreal expectations of Christmas without pain. It is what it is, and you have the courage and strength to get through it.

It’s not all bad and it’s not all good. It’s what you can take from the bad and make it good.

I leave you with this Christmas Prayer:

May the spirit of this season…

Harmony, Love, and Understanding…

Become a way of life,

And may the coming year bring

Hope and Peace to all mankind

Merry Christmas,












  1. LOVE this Lorna. Brought a sweet tear to my eye. I love your’s not all bad or all good. It’s just the life we create for ourselves. Holiday hugs, Elizabeth

    • Thank you, Elizabeth. I didn’t realize how far back in my life that mindset started. It wasn’t all candy canes and presents for my whole life. It was what it was, and is what it is. I choose love and happiness. Merry Christmas to you!

  2. I loved reading this. I also really like the way you explain your story life’s journey and how it is for you. It helps me to think about how much of my journey has been through the good times and the bad times and I like you chose life and love.

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