One of the sentiments I’ve heard most over the last several months is something along the lines of I’m sure the holidays are going to be hard for you this year. These concerned well-wishers aren’t wrong, either; part of me has approached this time of year with a mix of dread and apprehension. I wasn’t kidding when I said in November that I wish we had all arranged to go on a cruise or something over Christmas. (Everything is already entirely different, so why not go all the way?)

Still, like almost everything about grief and loss, what this season has been most is different. I know what our well-meaning friends really mean is that they think this Christmas is going to be miserable, but in my experience so far, that’s not quite right. As I’ve said before, something can be incredibly difficult without it also being a bad experience.

See? We decorated.

So yes — it’s been a very different Christmas so far this year. It has been hard in ways that were not unexpected — I had a harder time getting into the spirit of things this year, for one thing — but it’s also been, in some ways, very normal. Sure, it has not been part of my Christmas repertoire in the past to buy stocking stuffers for my sisters — that’s always been my mom’s territory — but we found there have been some traditions we didn’t want to let go. We decorated at home and at my dad’s, I’ve been listening to Christmas music, I’ve gone a little overboard with Christmas shopping, and I’ve enjoyed more than my share of Christmas cookies — and I’ve been, despite the inherent sadness in me, happy enough in it all.

Another thing I didn’t expect was that I don’t feel either like there is a huge, mom-shaped void this Christmas, and on the other extreme I also don’t feel some kind of false sense that she’s still here with us or anything. It feels like we are here and she is Home, and that, while hard at times to accept, also feels … okay. Not easy or pleasant, but okay.

This is the only picture we have of my entire immediate family, so I treasure it.

There are still three days to go, but so far this Christmas has been a peaceful and restorative time. And that, more than anything, is what I really wanted.