I look forward to the Christmas season every year – celebrating the birth of Jesus. Bright lights adorning homes, angel wings spread atop Christmas trees, Advent candles lit in church, and giving to others less fortunate reminds me of the true meaning of Christmas.
Behind doors dressed with wreaths, and amid crowded malls, there are individuals with mixed emotions during the holiday season. The empty seat at the dining room table where a loved one once sat creates an ache in one’s heart, but we can try to ease the pain by sharing joyful memories.
My father died two days before Thanksgiving, with the wake scheduled Thanksgiving weekend. His sense of humor, genuine personality, joy of eating with family, and warmth were missing from the table. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas we hold up our drinks and toast thanking God for family; that year I added, “…and to Dad in Heaven.”
When it was time for dessert, the table had pies, brownies, ice cream and candy from one end to the other. I recalled how my father’s favorite pie was coconut custard, which happens to be my least favorite. My son followed up that statement with, “Remember when Grandpa…” and we began sharing stories: funny comments he made, situations he got himself into, practical jokes he pulled on us, and how strong he was. I laughed so hard my eyes were tearing. We tried to fill the void by honoring him joyfully while remaining strong; we celebrated his life. His seat was empty, yet he encompassed the room.
Christmas was more challenging. My dad would always wear his Santa hat when handing his grandchildren their many gifts. He’d smile ear to ear as he watched their faces light up like lights on the tree. He never lost that child inside – a true blessing remaining young at heart and sharing that gift with others.
After Dad died, I asked my mother for his Santa hat. We host Christmas at our house every year. I placed the hat at the head of the table where Dad always sat. Everyone knew the special meaning of the hat at the table. His spirit will always remain with us, and watching from Heaven, I know he was proud.
Although his loss will always be felt, it doesn’t have to overpower his life, the memories created, funny stories, and words of wisdom he shared. Celebrating his life, instead of mourning the loss, and laughing with family seated around the table is how Dad would want us to spend the holidays.
What are some of your favorite holiday memories? How have you coped with loss around the holidays?