As we get ready to sit around the table the mood should be jolly. This is Christmas right?!? But this year, it is different. There is an empty seat. Several days ago, my beloved Grandfather passed on. It feels wrong to celebrate during a time of mourning. How is it even possible? Every place we walk, everywhere we look, there are memories; once reassuring, now haunting. No more hugs, no more laughs, no more sarcastic jokes or grumpy complaints. No more of the things we hated or the things we loved. No more.
It is my job to set the table for the family. Every year, we sit in the same seats in my grandfather’s home. Should I set a plate in his spot, even though I know no one will be eating there? Should I leave it empty? What should I do with the empty spot? I work my way around the table, carefully placing each setting. I contemplate how I should have prepared better. I should have planned for this moment. What goes in his spot? Perhaps something to honor him but I have no idea what would that be? A bucket of fried chicken that he always made sure we had at each celebration? A picture of him laughing? Some fresh oranges from his favorite tree in the grove? I move on from my thoughts and busy myself with different preparation chores. Somehow, we are all moving forward. Who will say the prayer for the meal now? I suppose it will be my Dad but I have not asked. My grandmother seems amazingly strong…almost relieved that the suffering is over. She and my Mom busy themselves in the kitchen. It is a good distraction, but at some point soon we will be forced to sit at the table and recognize the empty spot.
More family arrives, we hug. Joy mixed with sorrow. Grief mixed with acceptance. Understanding that we are all in this together. We all have memories we carry with us and we are seeking to reconcile our need with normalcy with an understanding that our beloved one had suffered so much and was ready to move on. We each seek to deal with our own personal heartbreak.
The time arrives. We approach the table and sit. The empty spot remains. We look at one another, at the empty seat and close our eyes. We listen to a new person lead us in prayer. We are thankful for this time and for each other. We are grieved and know that this holiday is the first of many. Things will never be the same, but that is life right? We are all here for only a few moments.
We best honor our loved ones by continuing on. It is perfectly acceptable to grieve. The loss never leaves us, but we remember them by doing the things they loved. For my grandfather, we make sure there is always a bucket of fried chicken on the table. (or if the chicken placed is closed, we mention it) As time goes on, we begin to be able to laugh a little more. We begin to celebrate the memories instead of mourning them so much. There will be many empty spots at the table over the years. It is hard to face the empty spot, but we must.
As the holidays draw near, know that if you are facing an empty spot for the first time this year, my heart is with you. May you find the strength to enjoy the friends and family around you. Face life. Own it. I assure you, no one that loved you, wants you to stop living. It is hard…very, very hard. The closer you are with someone the harder it is to face the holiday. Don’t stop living. You are important to others.
May your holiday season be full of love for those here and love for those who have passed away. May you make many new memories to accompany the old ones.