By Rhonda Peters

"Holidays are time spent with loved ones" was imprinted on our psyche from a young age. Holidays mark the passage of time in our lives. They are part of the milestones we share with each other and they generally represent time spent with family. They bring meaning to certain days and we bring much meaning back to them. But since holidays are for being with those we love the most, how on earth can anyone be expected to cope with them when a loved one is no longer with us? For many, this is the hardest part of grieving, when we miss our loved ones even more than usual.How can you celebrate togetherness when there is none? When you have lost someone special (whatever that means to you), your world loses its celebratory qualities. Holidays only magnify the loss. The sadness feels sadder and the loneliness goes deeper. Let us all remember that the need for support may be the greatest during the holidays. Pretending we don't hurt or that it is not a harder time of the year is just not the truth for us. You can and will get through the holidays. We urge you, don't avoid your feelings, lean into them!

I'm not awesome at expressing myself in spoken form.  I much prefer the written word.  It gives me a chance to edit, add and absorb.  So when I was asked if I'd like to write an article on love, I took it as a sign from the heavens that it was time for me to downshift and reflect on my recent love lost.

It has been exactly 8 weeks since my mother-in-law, Denise, passed away from metastatic breast cancer.  For the first 6 weeks I've distracted myself with three careers.  

I know my behavior has bordered on manic, so over the past 2 weeks I've intentionally slowed down.  I reluctantly stepped down from my daughter's elementary school PTC and out of necessity stepped back from my role at Red Willow.

Caring Bridge posts and periodic Facebook messages have provided a cathartic outlet over the past two years since Denise's breast cancer diagnosis in September 2013.  I haven't been speaking directly with family members much.  The loss I feel is too painful to explain to them.  And I'm easily annoyed by what I like to call "first world problems".    

I've come to hate the question "How are you?" 

Please don't ask.  

What I really want to do is cry.  And if you or I had the time to spare, I would fully explain the loss that I feel.  But instead I say, "I'm alright".  It's easier and less awkward for the person I'm speaking to.

Whilst many women dislike their mother-in-law,  I can honestly say I had a truly unique bond with mine.  Denise was one of my greatest supporters.  She appreciated my ambition, my own eye for design and my take-charge attitude.  She was my mentor, my confidant.  She was my matriarch after losing my mother at the age of 13.

She loved me like her own daughter.  And boy, did I love her like my own mother.  My heart aches without her in my world.  I still awake hoping she's alive and well two doors down and we can pop over for bloody mary breakfast.  Jammies all day on Sunday...I miss those days.  I miss her.

If she were still alive she'd be orchestrating plans and getting the house prepped for the holidays.  She loved, loved, loved Christmas.  She was the master of "koselig"...creating coziness during the winter months.  She would set up her Department 56 houses in little vignettes.  Tiny lights emanated from the miniature homes.  And her Christmas tree was a sight to be seen.  Dozens of twinkling white lights backlit intricate glass ornaments layered onto the branches.  

Tiny white lights...for those who follow my posts on Facebook, you may have noticed my white light homage to Denise.

She was a devoted mother of three sons, loving granny to five grandchildren, and a steadfast wife of forty years to JP.  She was the mastermind of Red Willow in Grand Rapids and the cornerstone of our family.  

I had the honor of knowing and loving her for 23 years.   Ours was an unconventional bond forged from respect, empathy and most importantly LOVE.  

And perhaps, her legacy of love shall become mine.   To nurture the love she gave to me and pass it onto my daughters and their husbands and children.   To create a sense of family so strong, that you truly want to be with one another.  Not out of obligation, but out of LOVE.

"While this is a story of love and loss, let it remind you not to save the fine wine for a special occasion...everyday is a celebration."