While the holidays have been rough for many Maritimers, they can be particularly sad for those who have lost loved ones during what should be joyous times. However, one Cape Breton woman is delivering a message of hope following a tragedy that ended her son's life five years ago, bringing light to others – while keeping his memory alive.

In 2015, a holiday tragedy occurred that would change Diana MacKinnon-Furlong's life.

Like any year, her only son, James Dale Greer, returned home from Toronto to spend the holidays on Christmas Eve. Unfortunately, later in the evening, he went for a walk and never came back.

Slipping on rocks along the Mira Gut Beach, Greer lost his life at the age of 35.

"Sometimes I can close my eyes, and it's like yesterday," says MacKinnon-Furlong. "The grieving process is one that amplifies the love, and I will always have that. I will always carry my son."

In the years since her son's death, MacKinnon-Furlong has always found comfort in a memorial tree along the beach featuring decorations commemorating Greer. While Christmas has been forever changed for her, the 2020/21 holiday season has seen her turn a new and more festive corner – by decorating at her house.

"We decorated this year," says MacKinnon-Furlong. "This is the first time in five years that I put my decorations back up."

The fact that MacKinnon-Furlong felt more festive during the holidays is ironic as COVID-19 has curtailed the holiday spirit for so many other people. Knowing this, she felt an opportunity to let others know things will get better – as someone who has lived through a heavy holiday heartbreak.

"I thought 'Diana, you know, you really know what it's like to have it difficult; but you can also know what it's like to find the joy and bring up some spirit, and add some light,'" says MacKinnon-Furlong.

One way she and others have been bringing the light is with the James Dale Greer Memorial Open, an annual golf tournament fundraiser in Ontario, which has raised more than $28,000 for Big Brothers, Big Sisters despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

"In the five years now, we've raised over a $100,000," says MacKinnon-Furlong. "So that is very positive, and I know that would make Dale very, very proud."

When the COVID-19 pandemic, along with all of its regulations, is over, MacKinnon-Furlong hopes to bring the charity event to Cape Breton.

Meanwhile, she's happy to have spent the season that was always her son's favourite with a little more happiness in her heart.

"We promised that we would always spend our Christmases together," says MacKinnon-Furlong. "And I still feel that we do."