The holidays are supposed to be The Most Wonderful Time of the Year. But when you’ve lost a loved one, grief can grip even the jolliest of moods.
Here’s my story:
There we were, circled up to give thanks just as we did seven years ago. The turkey was carved by the oven with care, in hopes that our family soon would be there.
But this year two special seats were empty at our table. As my dad led a short devotional about the source of our Thanksgiving, my eyes started to blur.
How can I be overcome with thanksgiving and sadness at the same time? Like paper clips strung together, memories flashed one by one through my mind and a few tears slipped down my cheek.
The strong man’s hand I used to hold, and the meek woman’s hand that would hold me were missing. My grandparents.
They loved the holiday season. Their house was warm and inviting all year, but it had a special dazzle from November to December. My grandmother’s pralines filled the yellow Tupperware container in the kitchen, Hershey’s assorted chocolates were crammed in the cookie jar with Santa stuck upside down on the roof lid.
I would wait excitedly by the phone for them to call and invite me over to help decorate the tree. Do you remember the icicles you draped over the branches? That was my favorite part. I would twirl and dance along with Bing Cosby’s White Christmas and toss the silver icicles onto the tree. I know it looked awful with the icicles clumped in one spot, but they just laughed along with me and probably fixed it after I left.
And their gifts! They aimed to please but always added their personal touch to whatever gift they gave. It meant something for them to give. And it meant something for me to receive! They gave part of themselves with each present they wrapped. And I stored it all in a special place in my heart.
In 2010 my grandmother began showing advanced signs of dementia. Miraculously, they found a house just down the road from me and made the move. My grandfather took care of her night and day. I enjoyed the spontaneous visits and my kids being able to walk over to their house.
One morning my grandmother fell while in the bathroom and broke her shoulder. The doctors fitted her in a sling, hoping to lessen the pain and keep it still. But she hated that sling! She’d look at me and ask “Why do I have to wear this thing?” I would patiently explain the story of what happened and why the sling was on her arm. She would nod her head and act like she understood. Then five minutes later she’d be trying to take it off again and say, “Why do I have to wear this silly thing?”
She never recovered from that injury this side of Heaven. After she passed, my grandfather was never the same. It wasn’t long before he also began showing signs of dementia. When he was no longer able to live by himself, he moved in with us. His dementia declined so rapidly those arrangements only lasted about 6 weeks. Then he needed someone to keep an eye on him 24/7.
On New Year’s Eve 2016, as my mom and I held his hand, his race was finished.
This year marks the 2nd Christmas without these special people here on earth with me. I still grieve their absence. I miss their voices, their laughter, how they said my name and just their presence in my life.
I’ve heard it said that death is like an amputation. At my grandfather’s funeral I said it feels like my leg has been cut off and I’m learning how to walk again. But my gait will never be the same.
The gap is still there. But, I thank my Lord Jesus Christ because through the true meaning of Christmas, I have the best gift of all. Hope.
So even though I grieve over the empty seats at my table, I grieve with hope this Christmas.
If you’ve lost a loved or are going through a difficult time, know that grief is a process. I’m not a professional counselor, but wanted to share a few things that have helped me.
- Don’t rush it. Soon after my grandfather passed, there were days I just had to stay home. I had to say no to some social activities, for me and for my kids (because that requires me!). I had to go slower, and give myself ample time to get out the door. It’s like life was in slow motion. This is OK.
- Don’t ignore it. Grief comes in waves. Sometimes the water is at your feet and you can wade through it, or even splash in it, but other times the waves will tower over your head and knock you down. When this happens, don’t fight it. It causes you to exert too much energy and then you’re at risk of drowning. Instead of covering up those emotions up with continuous activities or some other coping method, stop and deal with the pain. Cry, wail, write, walk…Then find a friend who will listen to you and tell you you’re not crazy. Soon, you’ll find a current back to the top of the water.
- Don’t beat yourself up. Grief causes feelings and reactions you’ve never had before. Don’t feel guilty about it. Give yourself space to grieve. Don’t try and make big decisions – what to eat for lunch can almost put you over the edge. And when you feel the sand beneath your feet pulling towards the deep end, hold steady. There’s probably a big wave coming. Remember, you’re trying to walk again with only one leg. It’s going to be hard and different. You will stumble. But take heart and keep trying. There is hope. You will pull through this.