My favorite holiday memory is when my mom was in the hospital

The first time I ever saw It’s a Wonderful Life was in a hospital on Christmas Day. I was lying in a reclined chair that was positioned parallel to a hospital bed, where my mother was lying. We had just finished eating dinner that was delivered from the night kitchen staff and watched the movie in amazement as the snow began to fall heavily outside the double-pane window. 

While we would have loved to watch this movie from the comfort of my mom’s apartment, the hospital became our new home. A back surgery that was only supposed to take days to recover from took weeks. And what was supposed to be a happy experience ended up being scary, confusing, and disheartening. We—especially my mom—hoped that this surgery would change her life by making her feel human again—but instead, it did the opposite. And she’s no longer here because of it.

So every year when December rolls around, I can’t help but think about this moment my mother and I had together. In the midst of chaos, loneliness, and anger, we had each other to count on when things felt bleak. When she felt like it all became too much, I did everything in my power for her to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The truth is, no child ever wants to see a parent undergo such an unfortunate situation, and no parent ever wants their child to witness it. 

But even though that holiday season didn’t go as planned, I’ll never take those 10+ days for granted. Watching my mom endure such pain and confusion in a short amount of time made me aware of the strength she had within herself all along. 

Because when you’re a kid, you automatically believe your parents are superhuman. You expect them to fight off the bad guys and save you from destruction. But when evil comes for your parents, that’s when you realize their powers are stronger than you ever thought imaginable.

If there’s one thing people don’t tell you about grief, it’s how it gives you the ability to time travel. Moments you thought were painful to relive become glimmers of light you try and grasp. While reliving these memories might feel like you’re holding onto shards of glass, they’ll eventually turn into sand and slip through your fingers when you squeeze tight enough. 

The truth is, those 10+ days in the hospital with my mom were some of the most stressful, painful, and unbearable moments in my life—yet they were the most memorable. Not only did I get to spend half a month with my mom through morning, noon, and night, but I got to witness her stand up and fight for her life. When the doctors failed her, she pushed for better care. When the pain became intolerable, she used humor to deflect the trauma she was experiencing. And when she thought she couldn’t push herself anymore, she faced her biggest fears head-on. 


My mom may not have realized it, but she gave me the gift of resilience for Christmas that year. She showed me how to plant my feet in the ground when things become unfair. She showed me how to lean on others when my body feels weak. And she showed me how to push forward with humor and empathy when it feels like there’s no hope left. 

If I could go back to this time, I would. I would happily enter the hospital room with a bouquet of flowers, place them on mother’s hospital tray, and lie in the reclined chair that I slept in for the majority of December. I would hold my mom’s soft hands and rub my fingers over her arthritis-ridden knuckles as the snow falls heavily outside the double-paned window. We would let the TV illuminate our faces, and I would listen to her stories over and over again. Because even though this time together was tough, it will forever be one of my favorite memories, as it was our little wonderful life.

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