As I sat at the back table of our family gathering, I studied the happy faces greeting one another. They felt foreign. I was the oldest of two children my mother adopted at infancy. Without her there, I felt I had lost the link to the only family I ever knew. As I sank into a thoughtful wave of grief, my daughter sensed the sadness. She came and sat down beside me. In her bubbly, vivacious way she tried to cheer me up.
“Smile mom. Come on. Go visit.” She urged with a nudge.
To be honest, it felt like a bit of an insult. I tried to explain. “This is the first reunion since Grandma died. I really don’t feel like smiling.”
Her shoulders dropped as her expression went from cheery to a cool degree of disgust.
“Mom. Does every family event have to be ruined by death?”
She was right.
Her words took me by surprise. Not only at the fact that they accurately reflected the last few years—but by her utter lack of understanding. Couldn’t she see how death ripped a hole in my very existence. Holidays notwithstanding.
Death, had in fact, clouded every family event. Not just in the eight months leading to that day. But death had all but destroyed the joy in our family events for the previous eight years.
At least, it did for me.
June 3rd, 2008 bore the day we lost our youngest son. From that day on, every holiday took on a new meaning. The first one we faced was his fourteenth birthday. It came the month after we lost him. Rather than celebrating his birth—although we tried—we mourned his loss. It was almost a second memorial. From the outside looking in, that may seem wrong.
Perhaps you’ve been told it’s “not healthy” to allow death to paint sadness and grief over celebrations.
But is it really?
In the first full year after we lost him, we were still dealing with the wreckage of the truck he was in, insurance companies, the hospitalizations of another son who was also in that horrific accident. For everything there is a season.
We were still in the season of mourning and grief.
Over time, I learned to take death by the hand and let it show me my life. From a different perspective.
When your life has been shattered by an unthinkable loss, it changes how you see the world around you. If you let it, and listen to it, sorrow will carve away the insignificant, and help you see what is truly worth living for.
In order to do that, you can’t push grief aside, even in the holiday season.
The First Two Years Are Hardest
Facing the holidays while grieving deeply is hard. At times you don’t know if you will survive the first years. Holidays, and family celebrations in the first year after a profound loss forces us to reevaluate what is important and what —well, just isn’t. The pain you are experiencing begs you to make decisions that you would never have to make if your life had not been maimed by loss.
In America, we celebrate holidays where we are expected to be joyful, thankful, and hospitable. When we are incapable of these emotions it adds a layer of guilt to our grief. We don’t want to ruin the holiday fun for others.
So, we have a choice to make. Paint on a smile, stuff down the tears and pretend. Or step back and look at each holiday for what it is— and how you can survive the day while still being true to this season of mourning.
Past generations understood this. However, it is not the way it is today. American culture promotes living for Friday, values abundance and savory sweets. It runs from the bitterness of loss. In doing so, it guides us away from the lessons it holds for us.
It’s written in Ecclesiastes 7:2, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.”
It is not your responsibility to transform your “house of mourning” to a “house of feasting.” Not only is it unjust for you, but it does no service to those around you. It does not allow the living to take to heart the reality that death touches us all. The truth is, this loss, changed your life.
A Different Season
As the holidays approach, if your house is a house of mourning, it’s perfectly right to be sad and not participate in festivities if that is how you truly feel. When you experience deep grief, the time for mourning does not take a break for the holidays.
Your loss is worth its sorrow. Take the time you need to adjust this holiday season to this new reality. Focus only on whatever is important to you and those closest to you.
If death has cast its shadow over your home, don’t allow the opinions or pressure of others to make you feel guilty for not turning your house of mourning into a house of feasting before its due season.
Don’t be afraid to break traditions, or create new ones. What is the most important for you this season?