Archived Opinion

A heavy but hopeful heart for the new year

A heavy but hopeful heart for the new year

Throughout my entire life, I’ve awoken on New Year’s Day energized to be more, do more, see more. This year was very different. I woke up wanting to do less, to simplify everything. I woke up feeling steadfast, reflective. 

My mom’s been by my side for 36 holiday seasons, so the first one without her felt strange and melancholy. Thinking back on the last couple of months, there are some bright spots like snuggling on the couch watching movies under the glow of the Christmas tree, making gingerbread houses with the whole family, and visiting my sister and niece in D.C. for a mommy and kid weekend. 

The Days and Eves were really rough, though. 

I missed my mom on Thanksgiving when she wasn’t there to break up cornbread and biscuits and add just the right amount of turkey juice and thyme to make my great-grandmothers dressing recipe. 

I missed her in the months leading up to Christmas when she and I couldn’t chitter chatter on the phone every day about which presents for the boys would be from whom. And on Christmas Eve when I couldn’t call her from my mother-in-law’s house or send her a picture of the boys in their Christmas pajamas. I especially missed her on Christmas Day when she didn’t excitedly walk in the back door around 10 o’clock to eat brunch and see all that Santa had brought. 

My dad spent the night with us on Christmas Eve so it was fun to do something unique and different, but the void was ever-present in the room.

Related Items

When my sister and I went to college then moved out on our own, my family started a tradition of calling at midnight to say Happy New Year to one another. I can still hear the joy in my mom’s voice when I would call. One year I was in Canada on a snowboarding trip. It was pouring the snow, but I went and found a pay phone and used a calling card just so I wouldn’t disappoint Mom and Dad. It was totally worth it. 

This year, my dad, sister and I talked on three-way through tears as we reminisced about New Year’s Eves of the past. And on New Year’s Day, I ate pork loin, black-eyed peas, and collard greens at Laurel Ridge. While it was very delicious, it wasn’t the same as eating the meal in my parents’ dining room. 

The silver lining is I’m on the other side of it and now have a new collection of holiday memories. I will forever miss my mom and continue to honor her memory, but I’m hopeful that future holiday seasons won’t feel so bleak.

Losing a parent at a relatively young age has change my perspective on life. I’ve realized that happiness really is inside a person and not out in the world. While the world offers much wonder and stimulation, it’s nothing like the reward of inner calm and peace. 

Last year taught me that life can throw a number of curveballs, challenges we can never adequately prepare for. In 2016, I surprised myself with both my frailty and my strength. There were times where it felt like quicksand was under my feet and a dark abyss around me. It seemed suffocating to move in any direction but I knew if I stood still, I would sink. A perpetual quandary. 

As I write this first column of 2017, I want to thank readers for your support, emails, comments, hugs, and words of encouragement. Since last August, I have been on a long, tiresome journey of grief. Until you experience it, you don’t realize how mentally and physically overwhelming it is. It has infiltrated every aspect of my life and impacted my work, my marriage, and my health. Writing about it has been so very healing. 

While the sadness continues to weave in and out of my days, other areas of my life have improved. I really held onto my faith during all of this and have recently widened my use of essential oils and resurrected my love of yoga. I’m trying to get adequate sleep, be mindful of meaningful moments, and eat healthy. I’ve learned it truly takes a combination of strategies and remedies to comfort a broken heart.

As I look into the face of 2017, I feel bold yet cautious. Empowered yet pensive. Childlike yet ancient. With all of these dichotomies swirling inside of me, I know a few things for sure. Life never gets dull, and I’m getting better every day at seeing the good all around me and realizing the absolute best things in life are intangible. 

For the New Year, I don’t have any resolutions. I don’t even have a word of the year. I’m just going to follow the advice of my sister’s father-in-law, a wonderful man who passed away the month before my mom. 

“Keep life simple and family close.” 

Really, what else is there? 

Here’s to 2017, friends. May it bring us many sweet memories. 

(Susanna Barbee lives in Haywood County. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

Smokey Mountain News Logo
Go to top
Payment Information


At our inception 20 years ago, we chose to be different. Unlike other news organizations, we made the decision to provide in-depth, regional reporting free to anyone who wanted access to it. We don’t plan to change that model. Support from our readers will help us maintain and strengthen the editorial independence that is crucial to our mission to help make Western North Carolina a better place to call home. If you are able, please support The Smoky Mountain News.

The Smoky Mountain News is a wholly private corporation. Reader contributions support the journalistic mission of SMN to remain independent. Your support of SMN does not constitute a charitable donation. If you have a question about contributing to SMN, please contact us.