December 23, 2022

The Last Christmas ~ Valerie Ronald


My mother never told me how much she would miss me when I remarried and moved to Manitoba. Some years before, she came to live near me and my family after my father died, where our relationship grew closer. She stood by me as I struggled through a divorce and serious health issues, and I gave her companionship and help as she aged.

She was happy for me when I met my “Manitoba man”. Having witnessed my years of painful struggle in my first marriage, she wanted God’s best for me, even if it meant I would be leaving. She bravely expressed only joy and encouragement as we planned a wedding in the middle of my chemotherapy treatments. Later I learned how her heart was breaking at the thought of me going.

Before our first wedding anniversary, my mother was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer. She chose not to have treatments as they would only prolong the inevitable. She maintained her independence as long as possible, with help from my older brother and her church family and friends. That winter my husband and I prayed, receiving God’s peace in our decision that I would fly west for what would most likely be her last Christmas.

I tried not to cry as I greeted her with a long hug. She was small and fragile in my arms, yet her gaunt face shone with joy at my arrival. She was still living in her beautiful seaside apartment, making do with medical home care and other helps. Though in early remission from cancer myself, I took over her care as best I could.

Words cannot describe the warm presence of God in that cozy apartment as we settled in for what seemed like one long sleep-over. We openly talked about what was coming, which intensified our pleasure in being together. We cried, we laughed, we reminisced and we talked about God. My mother became a Christian later in life, during my father’s illness. She looked to Jesus as her constant companion through many lonely days. She had a hunger to learn about Him in His Word, as if she were making up for lost time. What a difference it made for her to face death knowing she would soon be with her Savior.

 That Christmas there were a few cards on the mantelpiece but that was it for holiday decorations, so one evening I dug out Mom’s beloved nativity set. She sat in her favourite rocker wrapped in a warm pink robe with a blanket over her knees, watching me carefully unpack the porcelain figures. A friend had built her a rustic creche some years ago, which she wanted set on a table close by her chair. She asked me to hand her the figures in a certain order. Tenderly cradling each piece, she told me how every Christmas she liked to imagine what it was like for those who were there when Jesus was born.

The animals in the stable watching curiously as this small, naked creature slept in their hay. The shepherds still dazed by their angel visitation, coming to see if there really was a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger, as they had been told. And solemn Joseph, weary yet vigilant as he watched over Mary and her newborn son ˗˗ what responsibility he must have felt.

My mother held the figure of a kneeling Mary for a long time, turning it over in her trembling hands before she spoke.

“I think I know some of what Mary felt ˗˗ relief, wonder and fierce love for her baby. Maybe she checked that he had all his fingers and toes, like I did when you were born.” She held me long in her loving gaze.

“Even though Mary knew who her baby boy was meant to be, she probably loved him first as most mothers love their babies, with all her heart.”

I rested my head against her knees.

“Just like you loved me,” I whispered as I felt her hand on my head.

That Christmas was filled with bittersweet moments ˗˗ memories of my mother to treasure, whose beautiful brown eyes spoke volumes when she could not speak. A few months later the family was called to come and say our final goodbyes to her in the hospital. By then she hardly knew we were there, yet I knew I had already said my goodbyes during our precious last Christmas together. Though my heart grieved, I knew it was not really goodbye, rather it was until we meet again, when I would join her in heaven.

Her nativity set resides with me now. It is the first thing I put up each Christmas season. In keeping with tradition, I think about what the first Christmas was like for each character as I place their figure in the creche. And I remember how God gifted me with a precious last Christmas with my mother.

More of Valerie's work can be read on her blog:


  1. What a tender and touching memory, Valerie. I write this through teary eyes. It is such a privilege and an honour to care for our parents as they once cared for us. A very special time indeed, even through the most difficult bits. Thank you for sharing this time with us. May you have an blessed and Merry Christmas.

  2. This is beautiful, dear Valerie. Not only did God gift you with a tender last Christmas with your mother, He gave you a tenderloving mother. That's a priceless gift. So priceless.
    And how generous of her not to get in the way of your union with the "Manitoba man."
    Merry Christmas & blessings for 2023.

  3. How touching! What a precious memory. God is so good to us.

  4. Thanks for your touching memory and the meaningfulness with your Mom's last Christmas. How true that we can look back and see those moments and "remember how God gifted me."

  5. Oh, Valerie, this squeezes my heart. Thank you so much for sharing this beautiful post with us. Heart hugs to you! Brenda

  6. Such a beautiful post about your mum. the most cherished memories are those that bring tears and smiles.


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