“Grief is like a roller coaster ride,” so says one of the many books I have piled on our bed. It is the most helpful line I have read as the holidays approach. The most unexpected things send the cart I’m riding tumbling in a downward swoop.
Thanksgiving just happened and Christmas approaches with racetrack speed. How do I celebrate the holidays differently this year?
Our first year of marriage we obediently ate Christmas dinner twice. Rodney and my parents lived three blocks apart. Both households wanted us to be part of their festivities. To eat two Christmas dinners on the same day is painful. We changed course after that first year. Christmas day dinner became an every other year event. One year with Wilsons, next year with Hutchinsons, etc.
That was fifty-nine years ago. Now Rodney isn’t here for the holidays. Different meals. Different ways to participate with family. Everything is different.
Even the music the choir is preparing for our December 18 Tidings of Joy concert is different. Alleluia! The traditional and expected give me pause.
Decorating is a puzzlement. No tree this year except that tiny fake one. Too many memories tied to trees. For years we took the children to Henry’s Garden Shop to choose as big a tree as possible. We chatted with Henry as we warmed our hands over the fire roaring in a large metal barrel. And we argued very year about the size of the tree. I wanted bigger…Rodney always pushed for smaller.
I began collecting Nativity Sets years ago. It is easy to get so busy during the holidays that Christmas comes and goes and we miss the Holy. A house full of Nativity sets reminds me that Christmas is a Holy time. People across the globe express that in many different ways.
What about the Nativity sets this year? I don’t think I can put them all out. This year I’ll chose the ones most connected to special memories with Rodney.
The large straw Nativity from Portugal caused a lot of conversation. Purchased when we were dead tired after leading a three-week Rotary Work camp in the villages of the Montemuro Mountains. Rodney worried out loud “How will you get this thing home?” I’ve usually trusted the shipping processes so off it went to Kansas City.
Buying the pottery set in Mexico worried even me. I joined Rodney in concern for its safety. But it has graced the mantel in front of his great grandparents for many years now.
There are dozens of smaller sets. Many of these will probably stay in their summer home in the attic this year. Maybe next year they all can celebrate with us.
We will gather as a family this year and shape new patterns. While acknowledging our grief, we will praise God for the gifts of love and memories of past years. Healing will slowly have its way. We will invent fresh ways of praying, sharing what we have with others and honoring the sacred. New understandings of celebrating Christmas will emerge.