By Rachel Hoeing

No matter what you may be celebrating this holiday season, my biggest wish for you is that you will celebrate family. There is nothing more important.

I have always known the importance of family because my parents modeled that for me growing up. A Christmas was never spent in my own home and I loved it that way. Every Christmas we drove from Charlotte, NC to Hazleton, PA and were welcomed by extended family with bear-hugs, homemade pizza, Italian cookies, and love. And yes, Santa knew exactly where to find us.

We continued this tradition even when my children were born and we were living in the Triad. My husband’s family lives here as well, so it worked out perfectly to make our trek to PA, drive home on Christmas Day along the empty highways, gobble up Waffle House for Christmas lunch, and then land at my in-laws for an amazing gathering that evening.

As things happen when you get older, the number of family members decreased. My great aunts and uncles slowly passed away, and divorce separated a few others. My last surviving grandparent, Nana Hess, passed away on Christmas Day, 2006. It was heart-breaking, and needless to say, it took a few years for our holiday traditions to bounce back after that. By 2010, we were all back together again in PA. Our family rejoiced in our togetherness and we felt the Christmas spirit once again.

But then in August of 2011 my mom died, and three months later my dad died. Needless to say 2011, was a wash. My family of four decided to take a cruise with my sister and just “get out of dodge” for the holiday because it was honestly too much to handle.

Losing my parents while they were in their 60’s meant that I was the oldest member of my direct family line at age 38. I was lost. The holidays would never be the same.

We’ve struggled ever since then to find our tradition. We’ve tried staying in town to make new memories, we’ve tried going to PA again to visit extended family, and we’ve tried having family to our own house. We’ll never have the same Christmas again, but I do my best to make it a magical one for my children. Each year I am sure to put priority on my sister’s family, my extended family who is still with us, as well as my husband’s family. It won’t ever be the same, but we will always have the magic of a family Christmas and the heart-warming new memories to bring us joy.

So back to my wish for each of you …

My wish is that you are grateful for your parents. I know not everyone has a perfect relationship, and we all have disputes, but hug your parents this holiday season if they are still here. Tell them you love them. Tell them you appreciate all they did for you and might still do. Tell them that you are happy they are still here for you to enjoy the holidays with. Tell them you forgive them if there were difficult times in the past, and ask them to do the same for you. There will come a day when they are no longer with you for Christmas. It sucks, and there’s no going back. Nothing will ever be the same. Most of us never know that the “last Christmas” is going to be the last Christmas.

My wish is that you focus on your children. Some of you reading this have lost children of your own and know all too well how important this wish can be. I wish that you give your children love, you give them experiences, and you give them memories. Tangible gifts are always amazing, but my wish for you is that they are secondary.

My wish is that you tell your children what the holidays are all about. My wish is that you share your convictions, morals, or religious beliefs with them, and explain to them why you celebrate the way you do. Share your traditions, your family recipes, your family prayers, songs, or stories.

My wish is that you are grateful for your spouse or significant other. Even with their imperfections and nuances, my wish is that you are able to see the good. Many have lost a spouse, and statistics show that half of marriages end in divorce. If this pertains to you, my wish is that your relationship status this holiday season is exactly where it needs to be to lead you on a new path of joy.

My wish is that you show your children that family is important. Be mindful of listening ears when discussing holiday plans. You are modeling for your children what they will do 30 years from now. When you state that you don’t want to travel to see anyone, or you state that you don’t want to take time out to visit two or three different houses full of relatives, you are showing them what is acceptable when they are in your shoes one day. Each year doesn’t have to be stressful, but do what you can to be with those you love. Remember that you will be the grandparent one day. You will be the one who is yearning to spend time with your children and grandchildren. How do you want them to include you at the holidays? Set an example for the future.

My wish is that you will be grateful for the love surrounding you and let those close to you know it.

My wish is that for this holiday season, you let go of grudges and instead make joyful memories. Cherish this holiday season even with those whom it might be hard to do so.

My wish for you is love, kindness, forgiveness, and above all … family.