I didn’t think the holidays would affect me. I mean I already miss him, how could I miss him anymore than I already do? I was wrong. Holidays are the proverbial lion in sheep’s clothing for anyone who’s experiencing them for the first time after the death of a loved one. They are snide, vicious reminders of what you’ve lost. One minute you’re glazing the ham, then, wham! You’re bawling in the bathroom with a towel over your mouth. Traditions you’ve built together for years are now riddled with emotional land mines. Papa always made the dressing on Wednesday night with a grandchild or two helping him crumble the cornbread. This year, the handpicked, corny Christmas song mix he’d play as we decorated the tree the night after Thanksgiving, was at times like fingernails on a chalkboard. His recliner sat empty a lot. Last year four or more grandchildren at a time sat there at any given moment on Papa’s lap watching a movie on his iPad or iPhone. The huge, jagged hole of loss followed us all around like an invisible fanged menace.
However, it wasn’t all painful. As I watched the kids and grandkids chase each other around our beautiful three acres I was filled with gratitude. The Hubs had worked hard to provide this family with such lovely surroundings. From the stone fireplace to the one hundred trees he planted, all were gifts to us, his family, to enjoy for such a time as this. I found great comfort and peace as I spotted Gary everywhere. He was at the sink washing dishes, stoking the fire, wearing a Santa hat, carving the turkey, and dipping his finger into the freshly made whipping cream. The family he helped create and nurture filled every nook and cranny transforming this house into the home we always prayed for. Our two new girls, Nellie Rose born last Thanksgiving, and Katie Bobatie, who married into our family in September, had already given Gary great joy before he left us. Daughters-in-law, Sarah and Erin, had owned a piece of Gary’s heart for some time now. The seven other grandchildren were Papa’s delight and I saw him in all of them. Then there were our three boys, who have grown into Godly men, husbands and fathers. They have their dad’s sense of humor, many of his gestures, and above all else, his character.
No, the Hubs isn’t far off when we all gather. From Wednesday to Sunday our Thanksgiving and the beginnings of Christmas came and went. Tears were shed but, thankfully, laughter could still be heard in this house. The sweet remembrances of my husband, our dad, our Papa kept us leaning into the winds of grief and gratitude. With thanksgiving we celebrated what we once had and what we will have in the days and years ahead.
An empty chair at the table breaks anyone’s heart, but the loss should not over shadow the love so freely and richly given for so many years.
We’re about eight weeks into our grief now. No, it isn’t any easier. In some ways it’s worse. Yet, with the grace and faithfulness of our God, this family will continue to love, hug and lean….