Today we usher in the month of November. The holidays are quickly approaching – first Thanksgiving and then Christmas quickly followed by New Year’s. I remember well the pain of those first holidays without Joseph.
Prior to his death we were very traditional in the ways we celebrated, but now we didn’t know how to fill the gap among us. Learning to do that was a process. We discovered quickly that we each needed something familiar because life had become so unfamiliar. Since they were part of the fabric of our family, we chose to hang on to many of our traditions.
You may find you need to do something entirely different and that is okay. Your life is forever changed, thus your holidays are as well. Eleven years later and on this side of grief, I recommend you check in with each family member and ask how each would like to celebrate your holidays. Please compromise and be patient with each other. Each parent’s wishes and the wishes of every surviving child should be considered and respected. Allow each other an extra measure of grace.
Our first holidays were extraordinarily difficult as I suspect yours might be too. Each of us around the table felt as though we had a limb missing. Joseph’s absence was conspicuous and his participation in our celebrations painfully nonexistent. We knew the date each holiday would arrive but had no idea how to celebrate without him. As each holiday rolled around, it felt as though the same limb had been yanked off again and again. Still, we gave thanks and worshiped. With practice, over the years it became more natural.
Our best friends from Tennessee visit nearly every Thanksgiving, and they came that first year after Joseph’s death. As we gather around the table it is our practice to share what we’re thankful for. That year, each of us mentioned something about Joseph. When my husband prayed before our meal, he again thanked God for our seventeen years with our beautiful boy. He asked God to tell Joseph how much we miss and love him. There were other things to be thankful for as well: two healthy boys, family and friends, jobs, and our eternal hope. We were growing to understand that even in the midst of grief there is always something to be grateful for. Perhaps your family would also benefit in find things to be thankful for. You might enjoy recording at least one a day for the entire month of November.
Christmas was our favorite time of the year. It still is. Our extended family lives out of town, so it was usually just the five of us around the tree as our boys were growing up. Phil would read the Christmas story from the Bible every Christmas Eve. At the insistence of Joseph, our three boys would then pile into one bed like a litter of puppies to watch and fall asleep to It’s a Wonderful Life. After his death, Curt and Wyatt found enormous comfort in carrying on their brother’s tradition. We continued with the majority of our Christmas traditions, however difficult those first couple of years. What helped the most, however, was that prior to Joseph’s death every single one of us knew that we were celebrating the fact that Christ entered the world as an offer of hope. We missed Joseph terribly but were happy for him knowing he was standing face-to-face with Jesus who was born, who willingly died, and then rose again for each of us.
Indeed, we still celebrate the holidays. We savor new memories made, we honor Joseph in ways that comfort each of us, and we strengthen our family bonds. Celebrating is one of the ways our family chooses to give thanks to God. We’re thankful for the seventeen years we had with our precious son. We’re thankful that each of us is being sustained by the God of all grace, thankful that He has overcome the world, and grateful He has overcome death.
More information about how the Ramsey family handled their “firsts” may be found in Grief: A Mama’s Unwanted Journey by Shelley Ramsey.