I will never forget the day, the moment, exactly where I was standing when I realized my family felt a little more whole.
I was a sophomore in College, home for Thanksgiving. We were in our garage packing up the car for our annual trip to my Aunt and Uncle’s house in Chicago. Heading to Chicago was one of my favorite holiday tradition’s full of city lights and train rides, a table packed with family and an abundance of great food.
It was our 5th holiday season without my sister; the holidays had been difficult for us since she had passed. Pent up grieving and misplaced anger always made their way to our tables when we realized the depth of what we didn’t have anymore. Stuffed feelings surfaced in unexpected ways, and the pain of missing her wasn’t fixed by shiny boxes or stockings of goodies. Nothing felt familiar or completely full of joy. There were sweet moments sprinkled in, to be sure, but the holiday season had always felt really heavy and really hard.
I cannot tell you what was different about this year, this trip or “why now” as I was standing in a cold garage putting bags in the car but for some reason I could feel a shifting in my spirit. I had prayed and prayed for healing and now I could finally feel my prayers being answered. Deep in my bones I could feel life being restored. It was a funny feeling…it was a lightening of the heavy burden of grief I had been carrying. It was a peace with our new reality, our new number of 3 that wasn’t actually that new, but it was somehow starting to feel like we would all be OK. The sadness and wishing she was still here wasn’t gone, but for once, I felt a sense of fullness in-spite of loss.
The holidays are a season of have and have not’s–for better and worse–and you may find yourself on both sides of that equation. I always have. We were rich in so many ways, but we had to set our table with one less chair. And we had to do it again the next year and the year after that.
The remembering never goes away and you may always wonder what your life would look like if things hadn’t changed. In ways it gets easier, but the missing never stops.
Maybe this year is your first. Maybe it’s the first time you’re walking through your favorite traditions and preparing your favorite meals and your family isn’t whole. It may all seem foggy, as if this cannot be real. It may feel unfair…and it is. I am so sorry for the tears and the pain and the depths of your loss.
Perhaps the feelings of wholeness cannot come again with the family you once had. You may not have physically lost someone, but perhaps relationships have been fractured or even broken. Maybe someone isn’t there celebrating with you for a variety of reasons because of a tangled, messy story. For that, too, I am sorry.
Maybe you’re a few years in, but the holidays are still bitter. The absence of a loved one is louder than the Christmas music playing in the background and you’re not sure it will ever be okay. Because the grieving feels raw and unavoidable–and in some ways, that’s not all bad.
Grieving the brings healing doesn’t happen in the busyness and the “just pushing through” or even the avoiding; it happens in the still, small moments that we chose to slow down and feel.
Let yourself be washed with waves of grief whenever they come. Cry tears for the babies you’ll never hold, the people you’ll never laugh with and the traditions that have come to an end. Mourn the relationships that have changed and the people who have left. Sit by the tree or the turkey or in the middle of target if you need to and just let yourself come undone. Tears are healing, a balm for your aching heart. And grieving will bring wholeness over time if you give yourself the permission to be broken without resolve.
Because this season we celebrate and give thanks for the One who came to heal our every hurt and restore everything that has unraveled and fallen apart in our lives. We celebrate Jesus the King coming into our homes and at our tables and in our loss. What a beautiful, redemptive story and just in time–we need healing now more than ever before.
I pray you find comfort in your grieving. May you be surrounded by those who share your broken heart. And if your heart isn’t broken this season, may you sit close to someone whose is. Ask about their family and their memories–there is so much life in remembering.
May you build new traditions as you continue to celebrate and continue to find reasons to give thanks. Thankfulness is good for our us, even if it’s weepy, grief-filled thanks for the small and simple things.
Life will come again, of that I’m sure.
And I pray someday you have a quiet moment when nothing extraordinary is happening that you feel a little more whole.