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"So each year we keep celebrating. I am past thinking time will completely heal this wound, past thinking I will ever get over having moments when tears come unbidden, or my breath hitches in my chest. Instead, I know I can smile and laugh and praise my God the very next moment."
Even 12 years later the holidays can be hard without him. Halloween was the time he taught my little brother how to carve a pumpkin, artfully, layer by layer, into an intricate jack-o-lantern. Thanksgiving woke him up at 4 am to put the giant turkey into the oven, basting it each hour on the hour until it was crispy-golden-juicy-perfection. He carved that bird, electric knives whizzing, then sat at the head of the table, mom by his side, as perfect hosts to brothers, sister, grandparents, cousins, and dogs. Christmas introduced a new world of his voice, booming, wonderful, melodious, every once in awhile deliciously off key, as we sang songs after our nightly advent. He held the other side of the saw as he taught me to cut down my first pine tree, destined to be decorated with old family-made ornaments, sparkly lights, and his favorite tinsel hung individual strand by strand.
My father was a lover of life, of tradition, of celebration, of story, of humanity, of family, of God. After he died, holidays—once the linchpin of our family—became a mixture of the same true joy and deep heartfelt grief. I guess I thought someday we’d get past that. Someday we’d be able to go back to our old traditions and they’d be normal again. This has not been the case, and is not the case for many of us with losses so great they never seem to go away.
So instead of expecting to not miss him, to not notice the difference, we have learned to accept it. For some holidays we have found ways to continue our family traditions, to keep them going and find great pleasure in them. We still dress up at Halloween and still carve pumpkins (though mostly separated, as we have grown and moved and married and had kids and careers and change). We still open stockings on Christmas Eve and presents on Christmas morning. But some traditions we still struggle to do any more without him. Thanksgiving is one we’ve never quite gotten back. We’ve tried Disneyland trips (of course), other people’s houses, and smaller, more casual dinners. We've only recently been able to have bigger family meals again, where we read verses written on cards with pilgrim stickers and say what we are thankful for. That one took more time.
In spite of how hard it was (and sometimes still is) to celebrate holidays without those we love, I’ve learned how worthwhile it is to try. To find moments of joy, anyway. To remember those lost to us, let our hearts hurt, then praise the Lord that we had them for the time we did. To—in the heartbreak, in that moment our breath is stopped with missing them—realize we were blessed because our missing them shows how much we loved them, how amazing they were. Holidays have a deeper meaning for me now. The psalmist begs the Lord to “teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12). Holidays help us to do just that. We mark the days which have passed, “numbering" them, realizing how temporary they are. And we celebrate harvests, life in spite of death, the changing of the seasons, thankfulness, and, most importantly, Christ’s enduring love for us, so powerful He gave up heaven to walk with us. God himself did just this with his chosen children of Israel, instituting many celebrations amongst his people to help them refocus, to look to Him even in the midst of slavery, corruption, death, and famine.
So each year we keep celebrating. I am past thinking time will completely heal this wound, past thinking I will ever get over having moments when tears come unbidden, or my breath hitches in my chest. Instead, I know I can smile and laugh and praise my God the very next moment. I can stand on Main Street, Disneyland after the Christmas fireworks, tears running down my face as I remember how much childlike joy that darn fake Californian bubble snow brought my father years ago, and smile at the memory. I can hurt and miss him, and then I can remember that I will see him again, in a place even more magnificent than the Happiest Place on Earth. I can find a peace and joy more real than ever before because I know that, even in the hardest of times, my heavenly Father is at work, and He will never leave nor forsake me (Deuteronomy 31:6).
So for those of you with recent losses or ancient ones, I want to encourage you. I will not tritely say time will make it better, or that you’ll eventually move on. Instead, find ways to celebrate these holy days, these family times, these moments of respite from our workaday lives. Turning our eyes from our loss to Christ and what He’s done, taking the time to still celebrate, not only brings glory to God but honor to our loved ones and new moments of happiness to our families.
Fawn currently works as the Client Services Director at a local pregnancy center and serves Cornerstone in the Biblical Counseling ministry.
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