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The Christmas after my father died, I came back to Colorado with my husband and 1-year-old son, longing to find the same “home” where I’d grown up, in spite of our family’s shared loss.

I didn’t know how unrealistic my expectation was until I stepped into our front hall and immediately realized things were never going to be the same. I also feared that my mother had lost it. Totally.

I knew she had rented out the basement level of our two-story home to a young couple. That seemed wise. She didn’t need all the space, could use the extra money and wouldn’t be living all alone in that big house.

But I wasn’t prepared for the way in which my normally organized mother had dealt with a bunch of leftover stuff she couldn’t quite sort through as she downsized her living space and adjusted to life without my father. She merely piled it all haphazardly into the downstairs stairwell, right off the front hall. She then covered the pile with a festive bright red blanket. And finally, as if to add a touch of humor, she taped a cardboard sign on the hall mirror above the stairwell that read “The Mine Shaft,” with a big black arrow pointing down.

I didn’t think it was funny.

“Mother, what is this mess?” I asked incredulously, as I dropped my suitcase.

She laughed. “I didn’t know where to put it and that seemed like a perfect temporary solution under the circumstances.”

I liked the word temporary; I didn’t like the phrase under the circumstances.

As that Christmas unfolded, several other changes became evident. My father always took pride in finding a perfectly shaped tree that just touched the high ceiling in our living room. He often waited at our local tree lot until a fresh load came in and picked the best one right off the truck.

This year, the tree in the living room was about half that size and woefully misshapen.

“I thought it had personality,” my mother said simply.

Gone also was the bowl of traditional homemade eggnog my father used to make. But when we talked about getting the ingredients, my brother said he always thought it tasted like cream-colored hand lotion. Surprisingly, we all agreed. So we didn’t make it.

We got through Christmas that year, but some things were decidedly different. And as I packed up to go back to California a few days later, I felt sad, like a homesick child filled with a ­longing for the familiarity of a home that no longer existed.

Lots of years have passed since that Christmas, and I’ve re-experienced that same homesick longing many times as our family changed shape and endured transitions. I especially remember that feeling when we lost a family pet or whenever I returned home after taking a child to camp or to the airport to fly off to college or life beyond. Home was ­different because it had a hole in it.

Today I’m more aware of the spiritual significance of this homesick longing. I believe God allows us to experience this yearning to draw us to him and enlarge our understanding of the word “home.” Not so much a physical place for our changing families, but a spiritual dwelling place in a relationship with him that gives us the security and comfort of a home that never changes, no matter where we live or what life transitions we experience.

Home — especially during the holidays — can be a hard or hurting place for many people. Losses through death or divorce seem most painful at this time of year. Alcohol, addictions or abuse problems feel more frightening. The effects of ­serious health issues or financial setbacks are most obvious. Need some help with any of these issues? Go to for resources and encouragement.

Carol Kuykendall is the author of Five-Star Families and co-author of What Every Mom Needs.

This originally appeared in an archived issue of Hello, Dearest. If you didn’t get a copy and would like your own, you can subscribe to get Hello, Dearest in your mailbox every season. If you subscribe, forward your receipt to and we’ll shoot a copy of the current issue in the mail to you for free … just because we like you.