The Mighty Logo

An Honest Holiday Letter From Your Loved One With Chronic Illness

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

As we enter the holiday season, I’ve been reflecting on what an honest holiday letter would look like. Can you relate at all? Would you (or have you) sent a letter like this? What would you add to your letter?

My dearest loved one,

This is probably the only time you’ll receive a holiday greeting like this. I’ve wanted to reach out to you for some time to share my heart with you, but it seems like every time I try, something gets in the way.

So this year, this letter is not going to be filled with the list of activities of my family, but rather, I’m taking a risk and sharing my heart.

I wish I could say it was busyness, or absentmindedness, or even “not enough hours in the day,” and while all of those things could play a role, the truth is that I’ve been actively avoiding this conversation.

“Why?” you might ask.

Is it because I no longer love you? Is it because I don’t like confrontation? Is it because I am jealous of your life? Is it because I don’t want to be in your life anymore?


It’s because I have been the “little Dutch boy” with his finger plugging the dam for too long!

It used to be easy to talk about our life. We had so much in common. I could breezily discuss the kids, or my marriage, or the upcoming church event. We could laugh at the funny thing the dog did, or being late to the movies, or me being an airhead and accidentally wearing my shirt inside out to the soccer game when we had an early start.

Then, something changed in my life that I didn’t ask for, and didn’t understand.

I got sick.

It was like being dropped into a war zone with no supplies, no training, and no map with how to get to freedom. It was like I had been transported to a dangerous world where everything “looked” similar, but in fact, was not. Deceptively familiar, yet nothing was the same.

I imagine it’s very similar to being invaded during a war. You’re still you, and the landscape is mostly the same, but what was once comforting and familiar is now potentially dangerous, and the rules of life have changed completely overnight.

You continued to reach out, and I’m glad you did! Maybe I didn’t return your calls. It wasn’t that I didn’t love you, it was that I didn’t know what to say.

Maybe we did talk, and I used humor as a way to “whistle in the darkness.” Maybe I deflected the questions because I just couldn’t even describe my experiences. I literally lacked the vocabulary to explain my new reality.

Maybe I turned the conversation around quickly to “how are you?” because that was much safer than you asking the same question of me.

Maybe I even gave you the highlights of things that were going right. This wasn’t a “lie of omission” on my part. It may have been the fact that I wanted to tell someone of the progress I made in my life, or even that I just couldn’t bear the thought of having to comfort someone else about my struggle, so it was just easier to keep the reports on my life to the lighter side.

I may have even avoided you altogether, because hearing about your life carrying on when my life was in a tailspin was just too painful. I was grieving, but it was for a loss I couldn’t even describe. After all, how do you describe a loss many people can’t even see, but that has changed everything about your life?

Maybe you are angry, or hurt, or even bitter that I didn’t tell you all of the details and let you walk alongside me more. For that, I am truly sorry — but the truth is, all of my energy has been focused on getting through this pain, and it was just too exhausting to try to describe it in words to even the closest people in my life.

There comes a point when giving birth when you become laser-focused. When time slows down, when you can’t see or hear or smell or taste anything. Every ounce of your reality is focused on what your body must do to create this miracle. You can’t speak, or the words you’re saying aren’t eloquent. No one would expect a woman in labor to describe her experience in a play-by-play manner!

I have been giving birth to the new version of my life for quite some time now. And the labor has taken every ounce of my energy.

I’m proud of my hard work, but it’s been an indescribably challenging endeavor, and words have failed me up to this point to explain the full measure of change and challenge in my life. Even now, I seem to lack the ability to begin to share my experiences.

My distance from you has not been any kind of reflection on you, our relationship, or some “unknown offense.” I have had to focus on survival, on healing, and on getting through this trial.

We’ve had some great memories and some great times together. I hope that as I figure out this new reality, someday we can be close again. But for now, thank you for loving me in the middle of my new reality.

Here’s what I know so far, and how we can interact:

  • I love hearing about your life! I love the fun stories about your career, your spouse, the fun vacations, your kids, your pets, your world — don’t hold back sharing!
  • I have my good days and my hard days. My lack of communication does not reflect on you. Assume all is well between us unless I tell you otherwise.
  • Assume I am exhausted — all the time. Mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually, psychologically and some days I just need to rest. If I can’t keep our plans, it’s not a reflection on you and it’s not a rejection. It’s just my world right now because everything has changed.
  • I am healing all the time and in every way. I am choosing to rebuild my life (an even better life), and that takes a lot of focus, effort and strength.
  • I will share what I can of the journey. Sometimes I am too emotionally or physically fragile to give the play-by-play, but again, that doesn’t reflect my trust in you. It merely reflects the fact that this is hard and there’s no playbook on how to deal with this. I’m having to make it up as I go along.

Here are ways you could practically help me:

  • Please keep telling me you love me. That is worth more than gold.
  • Moment of pure honesty: don’t bother asking if “there is anything you can do for me to let you know” because I don’t know what I need to do for me, let alone take the time to brainstorm how someone else could help.
  • Instead, give me concrete invitations to do something specific like “I can take your kids to practice on Tuesday” or “I want to bring a meal over this week, what day works for you?” or “Can I watch your kids for an afternoon so you can have some time to yourself?” or even “Could I help you put up the holiday decorations this year or rake your leaves or bring by a decoration to brighten your house?”
  • Don’t give up on loving me and my family. We need to be loved on!
  • Keep giving me (and my family) hugs– enough said!
  • Pray for me. Keep reminding me you’re praying for me. Keep believing on my behalf. It means everything!

I know this is not the Season’s Greetings letter you had expected from me, but I love you and respect you enough to share my heart, even if it’s only through the written word.

I wanted you to know I still love you. I still value the many, many facets of our relationship. I wanted you to know I appreciate your patience as I embrace this life I had not planned, and learn the “rules of engagement.”

In closing, I want you to know that whatever you choose to do or not do, I love you. This life I’m living is not for the “faint of heart,” and it’s not something that will resolve in days or weeks or even months. It’s my “new normal.”

Yes, I’m actively working toward a life that is better than before the diagnosis, and yes, there might even be days, weeks or months where I “seem normal” — but the truth is, my life is different now and has been for some time.

Although I grieve, “I grieve with hope” because I know this experience is making me a stronger, better person. I have committed to choosing joy no matter my circumstances, and I fully believe something beautiful can come from this challenge.

Whatever your response to this letter, I appreciate all the ways you have been a part of my life. Thank you for your love, your patience and your compassion.

Your Friend

Getty image by Milaspage.

Originally published: December 25, 2019
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home