The holidays mean big gatherings and big joy. However, this year will be different as many families are mourning during the holidays — mine included.

My father died of COVID-19 almost a year ago. We received his positive result the first week of 2021. A few days later he was hospitalized and, at the end of January, I walked into a cold room, wrapped in a biosafety suit, to recognize his body. Suffice it to say, 2021 was hard and strange. 

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When I received the news, I decided to accept the reality. I did not blame the virus, nor did I go into a rage when the vaccines arrived a few months later. Instead, I was grateful for the teachings of love I learned from my dad. But grief is not linear, we must live it without running away, otherwise a repressed pain might take its toll on us. 

Christmas time came with a mixed bag of feelings. It brought huge physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. This year, I have faced my own and others’ shadows, and I have learned about the path I want to take and the one I am leaving behind.

My dad taught me about the power of enjoying life. He always had a smile and a joke in any situation. I am sure he would not have wanted others to suffer because of his passing. I have engraved in my mind the last long conversation we had when he was already ill. He reminded me of the instructions for his ashes, and made one last joke: “Armando Manzanero is inviting me to a party. I don’t know whether to go.” A few weeks before, Manzanero passed away, and my dad couldn’t miss the opportunity to make the joke. Maybe he was right, Mazanero was inviting him.

When I was a little girl, I loved assembling the nativity scene at home. My dad and I would set up the mini village that would welcome baby Jesus on December 25. The day after we built it, he would help me glue on the heads of María, José, and los Reyes Magos that were pulled off by the dog during the night. After an initial moment of anger and disappointment, we would laugh as the glue dried. My dad’s attitude taught me that many things in life have a solution.

Christmas was always special for us. My dad liked to bring the family together and my mom would cook countless dishes, and we would spend days eating leftovers in different culinary versions. For this reason, I don’t imagine a sad Christmas. I visualize it with hope, love and happiness — it’s in my DNA.

Unfortunately, holidays often tickle a wound when we are grieving, regardless of the vision we have of life and death. A few days ago, I attended a Christmas dinner for some clients. During the day, work distracted me, however, when it was time to appreciate the table served with hallacas, panettone, pan de jamón and chicken salad, I fell apart. 

Standing there, as I watched the others celebrate, I understood that I will not have my dad around at Christmas anymore. I won’t be able to build new memories with him anymore. But I’m not complaining. I know I’m lucky to have had him for so long, and have beautiful memories in my mind and in pictures of all the Christmases, birthdays and celebrations. Life can be scary, and more so during a pandemic, but it should be scarier not to live it while we can.