Surviving The Holidays Without Them


My father’s heart was failing and his medical team had begun the final push towards getting him to the top of the list, he was getting a left ventricular assist device (LVAD for short). My mother had not missed a single doctor’s appointment that my dad had but was suddenly too sick to go. As the doctor explained the different options in devices to myself and my brother, my mom actually lied down in my dad’s bed to rest. The next day I took her to the emergency room.

The day my dad got his LVAD device we found out my mom had cancer. It was metastatic and had spread from her pancreas to her kidneys, spine, and lungs. Within days of my dad being released from the hospital, my mom was admitted. My dad decided to immediately begin work on preparing the house for her to come home from the hospital and fell getting out of bed to meet with electricians. He broke the dens on one of the vertebrae in his cervical spine. This would be a minor thing in a normal person but given his health issues, it became a major undertaking, the treatment of which resulted in him having a stroke.

As he was having the stroke he called me to tell me what was happening, I think even then he knew it was all over. I rushed home but my brother asked me to help my mom (she was in a different hospital than he was, in NJ, he was in NY) as he was there with my dad. I got to my mom’s side, she took one look at me and told me she was done. She wanted the do not resuscitate forms signed immediately. We did what we could to talk her out of it. Within 4 days she had passed. Two months of heavy fighting to hold on and my dad too had to let go.

When I lost my parents I lost more than the two people that love you the most, I lost all sense of safety, I lost that sense of home. I wanted to run away from things. My immediate response for the holidays was to get away. My brother, however, wouldn’t let go of spending the holidays in their home. I became incredibly depressed. My brother also was working as an EMT and actually working Thanksgiving and Christmas, leaving me alone in my parents’ house (which he had moved into). I am incredibly lucky to still have close friends in the area, specifically, one of my best friends who happens to be Muslim and from Pakistan. Believe it or not, he didn’t have plans for Thanksgiving or Christmas. He kept me company. We baked, we drank wine, we listened to Taylor Swift and we generally tried to ignore what was happening. I could not have gotten through that first year without him.

The next few years my best friend and her family joined us. We now refer to Christmas as “Merry Muslim Christmas” and really just do whatever we want. We open presents and enjoy food and each other’s company. It’s not a traditional Christmas but it reminds me that even when you feel like you have lost everything, there are still people that care and are willing to step in and become your family.