My father-in-law died on Thanksgiving Day in 2008, three days after a heart attack.
Our daughter died on the day she was born, the day after Christmas in 1998.
My brother – father of eight – died on the eve of Father’s Day in 2015.
I know I am not alone in feeling hurt around the holidays.
For some people, holidays are painful if they are not invited to festivities because relatives hold grudges.
Holidays are painful for single people, widowed, divorced and elderly people, figuring out where they fit or why no one has invited them over.
Sometimes holidays hurt because relatives bicker over politics or how to raise kids. One year at Thanksgiving, as my dad and his half sister discussed college admissions, an argument became so heated that my grandpa – their dad – pulled out his shot gun and fired at my father as he fled the house. The bullets missed and somehow their relationship was restored, but not until after years of fractured holidays.
Sometimes holidays hurt because family members disagree about how or whether to celebrate certain days. At one time, Joe and I chose not to celebrate Christmas because of the pagan roots of some traditions. I regret this deeply now that I am a grandmother and I consider how hard that was for Joe’s parents and mine. It was also hard on my youngest brother Matt who was a college student when our mom died suddenly. During Christmas break, Matt had nowhere to go, but I was completely clueless, living 500 miles away and focusing on my own beliefs.
Yeah. Holidays hurt.
For those celebrating holidays this year with an “empty chair” at the table, I understand how each year doesn’t necessarily get easier, it’s just a different kind of hard. Joe and I wish often that our parents were still around to know their great-grandchildren, to experience our children’s weddings, and to see what we have achieved in life. Another holiday is a new set of memories to make without those we love.
If you’re feeling sad on holidays, I encourage you to identify a special way to remember those you loved and lost. For example, after our daughter Victoria died, we allowed each of her siblings to purchase a stuffed animal on her birthday for the next seven years. The plan was to give an animal to the first seven grandchildren who were born so that Victoria would not be forgotten. Grandson Luke has the panda bear now. And granddaughter Victoria – named for her auntie – has a doggy.
Another way we honor Joe’s dad is by preparing Thanksgiving breakfast the way he would. In 2008, it was dad’s turn to host breakfast and my turn to host dinner. When we went to his home after his death, we were greeted by the breakfast table he had set before his heart attack on Monday. So every Thanksgiving morning, we enjoy sausage, fried potatoes, scrambled eggs, and most importantly, orange juice served in styrofoam cups, just like Dad would do. One year, I forgot to buy styrofoam cups and it felt like sin.
Finally, consider taking photos and being photographed this holiday no matter your situation. Holidays will hurt in the future as families gather and discover how few photos there are of us and other family members.
To all those who hurt this holiday season, I understand. Lean into your pain. Cry tears. Visit a grave. And remember that grief is love.
God heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds.
In memory of Joseph Coleman: