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By Jimmy Burt and Kathleen Romania

Can you feel joy and sadness at the same time? It seems like, nowadays, every Christmas season I experience this duality of emotions. I think my wife and her family do too. And I’d imagine George, my father-in-law, does especially.

It’s been almost nine years since he started exhibiting signs of MSA, and about seven since he was officially diagnosed. Over that time, he’s experienced what most MSA patients experience: a rather rapid loss of control over his movements, intensifying speech difficulties, and periods of melancholy. Yet, throughout it all, George has never lost his will to live.

And even though Christmas time looks different for him now than it did in the past—he always seems happiest around this time of year. His smile’s a little bigger. The glint in his eye is a bit brighter. And I think part of it is because the holidays—and Christmas in particular—have taken on new meaning for him. I know they have for me, my wife, and her family.

But I also think it’s because George is one step ahead of us all when it comes to knowing what’s truly important in life: family, friends, and joy. And no time of year brings the three of those things together quite like Christmas.

There’s just something…different about it.

George has always loved being around his kids. But it’s different during Christmas. It means more, particularly now. He’s always loved spoiling his wife with gifts. But it’s about more than that now—gift-giving is something he can still dictate and control (he provides explicit directions to my wife, who then plays the role of his elf).

He’s always loved his wife’s meals (especially the sweets). But it all tastes better now. He’s always loved the decorations around the house. But they’re more exciting to look at now. And he’s always loved poking a little fun at his son-in-law. But he laughs harder at it now.

I don’t think this is because George sees every Christmas as his last one. I think it’s because George feels blessed to just be there with us, celebrating, sharing, and making memories. And I know we all feel blessed to be there with him, too.

I guess what I’m getting at is, when so much has been taken away from you—like it has been from George—you realize the little things aren’t so little.

It’s not just a Christmas tree.
It’s not just a gingerbread cookie.
And It’s a Wonderful Life isn’t just a movie.

It’s everything.
And George knows this better than most.
This Christmas, I hope you and your families can find joy in the little things.
Because they’re not so little after all.