I still remember our first Thanksgiving after my husband Ericlee died. My family tried to hold it together. We tried to stay the course with certain traditions, but it was clear everything was off-kilter.
He wasn’t there to run the Turkey Trot. He wasn’t wearing his silly apron in the kitchen, helping me chop the butternut squash for the soup. He wasn’t there to say the Thanksgiving blessing-prayer. We tried to make conversation around the table, but it felt strained, awkward, even empty without his presence.
Looking back, I wish I spoke up when things felt wonky. My heart was heavy, but I couldn’t push to find the words to articulate it. As a newly-single mama, I was cracking inside for my three girls who were without their gregarious daddy. I saw my family stumbling through the holidays as our gatherings lacked his leadership, but I knew I could never fill his shoes.
Now I know it takes time for a family to recalibrate when someone dies.
We need to blanket ourselves and others with grace. We need to make space for the emotions and the grief. We need to give ourselves permission to throw out or reinvent some of the traditions for the sake of our souls.
Since Ericlee soared to Heaven, I’ve learned to carve out intentional time to cherish his memory with my girls. That first Christmas without him, we ended up re-imagining some of our traditions. Ericlee would always wear a Santa hat while we decorated the house. Now my new husband Shawn or one of my daughters dons Daddy’s hat.
When we decorate our tree, we take time to linger over the ornaments and share stories about him as we hang each one. It’s not the loud, festive tradition we once had with Christmas carols blaring in the background and Daddy’s blazing voice, but it’s our own way of including his memory in our season.
I know many of you may be tiptoeing into this holiday season feeling raw and vulnerable. That miscarriage you experienced a few months ago, that recent cancer diagnosis, that child estranged from your family, the death of your spouse or grandparent, the unspeakable injustices raging in our world – all these griefs weigh heavy on your hearts.
This is not the time to plaster on a cheery face, to go through the motions and shut down our emotions.
This is the not time to turn away from our grief; it’s time to draw close and offer the present of our presence to each other.
This is the time to muster up the courage to sit together, to weep with each other, to listen to each other’s stories, to rejoice in the new beginnings, and the unexpected gifts. Friends, let’s vow to lean in together, to embody Immanuel for one another.
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).
This next week you may be throwing a football in the front yard, or sitting down at the table with family to carve up a turkey, or to feast on Grandma’s famous pumpkin pie. Our family will celebrate our fifth Thanksgiving with my beloved in Heaven. We are deeply grateful for all the things God has redeemed. I can honestly say that joy tips the scale more often, outweighing the sadness in our home. That’s the truth.
What’s also true is that sometimes the tears still spill over, the memories overwhelm, and grief sashays into the room when we least expect. And that’s OK too. We are ready in our hearts for this wild dance. I am starting to believe this dance is the way to embrace the holidays. I could sit on the sidelines and fake it, or I can jump into the dance whirling with joy and pain, memories and merriment.
Friend, It’s normal for the holidays to hold both a tinge of grief and a taste of glory.
Like in the birthing process, pain often precedes the joy. Mary endured painful contractions so that the Messiah Jesus might enter the world. The baby wrapped in swaddling clothes was wrapped in the paradox of death and life from the very beginning of the story. God knew He was sending His son to earth as a baby born to die so we all might live.
I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
To fully discover the abundant life Jesus gifted us, we have to embrace the pain with the joy, the bitter with the sweet, the grief with the glory. He continues to show me His glory shines in every dark corner, in every cold stable, in every rough manger.
*Dorina has written and recorded a free Advent devotional about discovering the abundance of Jesus in the Christmas season. Sign up for her Glorygram here and a free copy will be delivered to you weekly during December.