“As a pastor I’m often asked during times of loss, how long the grief lasts. I respond, as long as you love.”
—Pastor Tony Stallings,Highest Praise Church of God, Austell, GA
Thanksgiving reminds us in all forms within our cultures here in America of how truly blessed we are. It is a day for the creation of new memories combined with the memories of times-past.
Among these blessings are many people who are struggling with losses and concerns for loved ones, me included. Holidays are the toughest times for they, more than any other time of the year, mark the passage of time, reminding us of how our lives have changed. Our memories are joyful and meaningful, yet sad and lonely because we just don’t get to choose when the unexpected happens; for loss doesn’t take a holiday.
The ways in which we handle holidays are as individual as we are. Grief is what we feel inside and mourning is our external expression. It is important to lean into both as we navigate a journey not of our choosing by being gentle with ourselves and to accept that’s all there is right now. We are allowed to be sad and to say no or to change our minds – more than once. It’s okay to spend time alone for as long as needed, to cry as many tears as necessary, and to pray without stopping and without words because He knows your needs.
Memories of other Thanksgiving days meander through my mind; times of sumptuous meals with our large extended families followed by washing dishes by hand while a flag football game is played in the backyard. Then, in a blink it’s Christmas Eve. The kids are in bed and my husband, Frank, and I are still putting together the Barbie dollhouse at 2:00 a.m. We finally fall into bed exhausted and before I can surrender to sleep, I hear Frank’s voice, “Knock knock.”
I respond sleepily, “Who’s there?”
“Banana who?” I ask, playing along.
“Knock knock,” he responds.
“Who’s there?” I sigh.
Again I ask, “Banana who?”
“Knock knock,” he continues.
I refuse to answer. A minute goes by and I think it’s safe to give in to slumber when I hear, “Knock knock.”
I remain silent. Another minute goes by and again I hear “Knock knock.”
“Whooooo’s there?” I squeak.
“Orange,” he says. “Orange who?” I ask with a slight tinge of annoyance.
“Orange you glad I didn’t say banana!” He chortled with delight as I kissed that smile right off of his face!
Such was life with my husband and joyful memories such as these now take on a bittersweet feel, magnifying my loss. Sadness is sadder and a yearning for what was, intensifies loneliness. Yet I catch myself smiling more and even laughing out loud as I talk about him with those who also have a need to share their own memories with me. That’s okay because in the doing of this we honor him, keeping love for him close in our hearts, a comfort like no other.
As I write these words, the lovely smells of a turkey browning in the oven and the spicy scent of cornbread dressing makes my mouth water while the cooling pumpkin pie tempts me with its cheerful color. My adult children are watching football, cheering loudly with touchdown or interception. A dog sleeping on either side soothes me into a state of contentment for this moment, on this day.
These past few years I have come to realize that holidays are exactly what we make them. Yes, I experience an assault of emotions, but the memories sustain me. As the holidays ended, I realized that I have lived through each day and with this realization, accept that life goes on as does my love for that empty holiday chair for all the days past, and for all the days yet to be. I’m thankful to have had thirty-seven years of such memories; and there is no doubt that Frank is also glad I’m glad. I pray you find your peace in the holiday season.
May this sparkle of His grace comfort you:
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18