It seems like all my life I’ve felt incomplete. Each time happiness came around, my heart still felt a void that couldn’t be filled. Even after putting the pieces of my heart back together, there were always pieces missing. I could put myself back together, but never completely.

The holidays are not the best times for me. I don’t feel like celebrating. I haven’t liked the holidays for a long time. But my little one doesn’t understand that. I can’t tell him that I don’t want to celebrate. I can’t steal that joy away from him. He expects a smile on my face and that is what I do for him. I put a smile even when it hurts. Even when I feel like staying in bed all day. I did it for all my kids when they were small. I always tried to hide my pain.

Smiling when you’re hurting is mentally and physically agonizing. The pain that comes from the soul makes your bones and muscles ache. It hurts to feel joy.

The first time my heart was broken was by my parents. My heart was never the same after they separated. After that my innocence was taken away by someone I thought cared about me. I tried so many times to put back each broken piece of my heart, but I failed. I kept losing those pieces each time someone hurt me.

Losing my mother left me in a daze. I didn’t know how to react, how to process such a big loss. I kept filling the voids with temporary feelings. Switching from one thing to another, trying to find the one thing that could make me whole again.

In my attempt to fill the voids, I was causing a bigger, deeper hole of nothingness in my heart.

When I lost my husband, I felt like they had ripped my heart out of my chest. I couldn’t feel my heartbeat.

Now that I find myself in the process of healing, most of the things that broke me don’t hurt anymore. But it doesn’t mean that I don’t feel those empty spaces trying to open up again. I feel my heart throbbing, fighting to keep those wounds closed.

Holidays, for me, mean to put on a smile and celebrate with my kids. Celebrate for them. No matter what or how I’m feeling.

My kids are my strength. That’s where I find the courage to keep going, to push through the pain. My kids filled that void that I felt in my heart for so long. When one of them is hurting, I hurt too. I feel their pain. I have dedicated my life to make them happy. But I feel like I failed.

As parents, we want to give our children the world and keep them safe from the monsters that live outside our homes. We don’t think much of the monsters inside that also affect them. We are so busy with life that we forget to talk to our kids. Communication is easy when they are small, but once they become teenagers it is very hard to keep communicating. They find it easier to talk to others instead.

For the past few years, my family has been broken. Having three teenagers at home is everything but easy.

My daughter left when she turned 18, thinking she could do it on her own. She didn’t care that I needed her. She didn’t care that she was breaking my heart.

Last year, one of my sons wasn’t home for the holidays. I missed him so much. I cried myself to sleep every night that he was not here with us.

I don’t even think they realize how much it hurt me to have them away from me. My heart felt empty again. Torn apart.

Today, my oldest son is not home and I miss him every day. I miss him when I’m happy, I miss him when I’m sad. I don’t want to go out because people always ask if you’re okay.

No. I’m not okay. My heart is broken.

I want my son back home. I want my family to be happy together.

I see families celebrating and I miss my husband, I miss my mom.

Holidays are supposed to be filled with joy. But mine are filled with memories, grief and lost pieces of my broken heart.

I wonder if I will ever recover.

So much loss.

So many missing pieces.

How can I ever recover?

How do we feel joy when our hearts are hurting?

I know that our kids have to grow up and eventually leave, but not like this. Not because we fight, not because we can’t communicate. All I want is for them to be happy and succeed in life. I want nothing but the best for them because they have been the best gift from God to me. He knew I would love them and give my life for any of them, he trusted me to be their mother even when I didn’t deserve them.

I thank God for giving me the strength to keep going. I am grateful for my family and I trust that God is always watching over them.

Sometimes we don’t know what people are going through, not everyone talks about their problems. For those who are hurting, may God bless you and heal your soul. You don’t always have to go out and put on a brave face, but if you do, I see you, I know it hurts twice as much to put on a smile.

Happy Holidays to all. May God bless your hearts. Amen.

Love Pao.

Let us do more of what matters and much less of what doesn’t. Let us seek to do the works of Jesus of Nazareth—lift up the sorrowing, heal the brokenhearted, visit the prisoners, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and give voice to the voiceless, the marginalized, the forgotten, and the despised.

-Elder Kearon