There is a great debate among those who celebrate Christmas about when it’s appropriate to start listening to Christmas music. I myself have fallen on both sides at different points in time. Facebook reminded me last week that a year ago, I was appalled to hear Christmas music in the middle of November, whereas this year, the week after Halloween, I was already loading up my holiday Pandora stations, feeling in need of some joy.

And it was listening to one of those Pandora stations tonight that I heard this song for the first time this season.

It’s been one of my favorite holiday songs (or anytime songs, really) ever since I first heard it four years ago. For me, it expresses perfectly the combination of exquisite pain and exquisite joy that I experience at Christmas each year (or anytime, really) without my oldest daughter.

It caught me by surprise tonight. One minute, I’m sitting at the kitchen counter stuffing my face with Tostitos and queso, reading a lovely memoir, not much noticing the Christmas music playing quietly, and the next, Ed and I have collapsed into each other in a moment of grief as deep as we’ve shared together in a very long time, arms wrapped tightly around one another, faces buried into hands and sleeves.

Exquisite pain and exquisite joy. The perpetual state of my existence. Or any existence, really.