I admire those families that have holiday plans pinned down for next year by the time they box up this year’s Christmas decorations.
Somehow we’ve never perfected the art of predictable patterns and unchanging life circumstances that make such a thing even possible.
So while we try to observe some of the same traditions from year to year, they tend to be expressed a little differently each time.
Of course, the year Dominic left us EVERYTHING changed.
“Changed” isn’t even really the right word. It was more like everything just stopped. Holidays were out of place in a world where all the color had faded to gray. What heart can make merry when all it feels is sorrow and despair?
Even still, the calendar beckoned and we muddled through the first Thanksgiving and Christmas as best we could.
This will be the eighth (!) holiday season since Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.
My children are all adults with established careers living away from home. We’ve added to the family circle through marriage and childbirth and we’ve had to say “see you later” to my mama who joined Dom with Jesus in 2019. Of course, like so many others, Covid interrupted last year’s celebration.
The past two years have been filled with travel(some planned, some unexpected) including a trip this week out to Texas to spend time with my son’s family.
So I find myself only days away from Thanksgiving without a concrete plan for when we will actually get together around the table and what, exactly, might be on it when we do.
(Please don’t ask me about Christmas yet!)
It’s more than a little uncomfortable for this gal who loves lists and planning and decorating to choose flexibility and flying by the seat of my pants. And it’s very uncomfortable to be the point of contact for various family members who are used to me having answers instead of more questions when they call to find out when they should show up and what they should bring.
But if there’s one thing I’m learning in this life after loss it’s this: Control is an illusion. All the planning in the world can’t account for random and unexpected.
I’m going to make some phone calls today to try to figureit out.
I’m pretty sure we will have plenty to eat, plenty to say and plenty of room for whoever shows up.
I will confess: I’m no better at this than the first set of holidays after Dominic ran ahead to Heaven.
Every. Single. Year. has brought changes and challenges on top of the empty chair round the family table.
Since Dominic left us we’ve had additions (a grandchild and various significant others) and sadly, more subtractions (my mother joined Dom in 2019). We’ve dealt with distance, deployment, healthcare and retail work schedules, a pandemic and lots of other, less easily defined tensions and difficulties.
When I ran across this quote awhile back my heart screamed, “YES!!!”
Gathering an entire family (which may include teens and young adults) for any extended length of time is a feat of scheduling, negotiation, and preference management. International treaties have been worked out in fewer steps. The sheer number of details that have to line up is mind-boggling.
There are the absolute parameters forced upon any family by distance and availability. NegotiatingTHOSEis truly a feat.
But when your family story includes profound loss, a mama often has additional hoops to jump through. Surviving siblings bring their own grief to the table and what that looks like can change over time. So something that worked one year might be rejected this season.
I wish I had some magical insight that could guide every wounded heart through these next, treacherous months.
What I can tell you is that it’s better to start earlier rather than later. Nothing falls into place without some planning. Old habits are hard to break and traditions are well-worn habits so don’t expect anyone to give them up easily.
No one can read your mind (are YOU telepathic?). Tell your friends and family what you need (even if it is that you have NOidea what you need!).
And then make space in your celebrations for times when you can grieve the absence of your child. It may be a shared moment or it may be you remember in solitude.
If you have surviving children, remember they are grieving too. They have lost a sibling, their innocence regarding death’s ability to steal even the young and the family they once knew.
Extend grace to others when you can.
Extend grace to yourself when you must.
Be honest and do the best you can.
Then remember that even these days are only twenty-four hours long. They will pass.
The sun will rise and you will, undoubtedly find out you survived. ❤