Hope Versus Holiday Grief

The colorful lights, packages wrapped with beautiful bows, Santa’s lap filled with happy children, the music of the season: all these joys spell Christmas.christmas candle

But what if we’re smack in the middle of grief this December? What if some of the joy is colored by sadness? How do we find hope when we so desperately need it?

While I raked dead leaves, three hope-filled possibilities floated through my brain.

Keep the Traditions. Did she make a certain type of pie or a specialty casserole? Make it yourself and remember what a great cook she was.

Did he string the lights on the tree? As you string them alone this Christmas, remember how he made sure they were evenly distributed and reflected love throughout the room.

Did the family always meet at Grandma’s house but now Grandma isn’t there and the house has been sold? Meet where you can and talk about her house. Show pictures to the grandchildren. Keep the memories of past Christmases alive and special.

Each family makes their own traditions. One of my favorites was shopping with my friend. That event did not happen this year, and I felt the loss so deeply.

But I cannot find hope if I only remember what once was. Instead, I’ll remember Deb and find a day to shop alone – start with a chai tea and tell her about my purchases. Give the gift I planned for her to a single mom who needs encouragement. Remember the fun of shopping together and toast Deb with some egg nog.

Fill the Empty Chair. Nothing is more discouraging than that empty chair at the table. It’s a reminder of loss – a visual of who is missing.

Instead of staring at the emptiness, fill the chair with another person:

  • An international student who is homesick and cannot fly hundreds of miles for the holidays
  • A single mom who is bereft of her children because it’s his turn to share them with his family
  • A homeless person who needs to feel the warmth of a home and experience a full belly
  • A young parolee who needs to understand that grace means second chances
  • Anyone you know who might be alone during the holidays

As we fill the empty chair with another living being, it reminds us life DOES go forward. We don’t have to be stuck within the grief of Christmas past.

Give Thanks for Memories. We shared many holidays with that special person. We may even still have some of the gifts s/he gave us – precious reminders. Wear that sweater she knitted just for you. Dab on that perfume he gave you. Clasp the necklace or play the CD.

Remember and give thanks. That person represents a unique place in your journey: spouse, parent, sibling, friend. No one can ever replace her or him.

Share your favorite holiday memories around the table. The stories will help that person seem alive again – the way he tilted his head when he talked, her unique laughter.

When Deb enjoyed a specially tasty meal, she always said “Uhm, uhm” between bites. I cannot eat guacamole without hearing her soprano gratitude.

Although this holiday may seem especially empty for you and the grief even more fresh than before – keep the traditions, fill the empty chair and give thanks for the memories.

Then remember your loved one is celebrating Christmas in heaven and probably thinking about you.

©2017 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved


Hope Creates Traditions

Most of us try to create traditions within our families. Reverend G and her son, Jacob, guarded the tradition of family dinner after church on Sunday. (I know this because she told me; i.e. fictional characters talking to the writer again  http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh).

For my son and me, one of our favorite traditions has revolved around May 5th, Cinco de Mayo. Cinco-de-Mayonshttp://www.mexonline.com/cinco-de-mayo.htm

We have no Hispanic heritage, but we both love Mexican food – so any chance to indulge seems like a good idea.

When my son was younger, I always made enchilada casserole for supper on May 5th. It lasted for several meals and grew spicier with each leftover warm-up. Through the years, I’ve tweaked the recipe so that it is now in the final stage of perfection – at least, we think so. I’m sharing the recipe with you below. Let me know what you think.

I wonder how many of our traditions revolve around food. In our family, food traditions include Christmas peppernuts from the Mennonites, Easter ham and Watergate salad, Thanksgiving zwiebach and pecan pie and the summer harvest monster cookies.

But the special part of our Cinco de Mayo celebration is that it’s usually just my son and me – no other family – no other friends. It’s nicer that way. More chips and salsa for each of us.

Rebecca’s Enchilada Casserole

In a large and deep casserole pan, spray a thin layer of extra virgin olive oil. This prevents the tortillas from sticking and helps you pretend you’re eating something healthy.

Tear up 9 corn tortillas (the small ones) and spread them across the bottom of the pan.

In a skillet, cook 1 pound of ground beef with ½ cup of onions. Sprinkle with red peppers (depending on how hot you like your Mexican food).

Drain off the grease and give it to the dog. He will drink lots of water b/c of the red peppers.

Add 2 small cans of green chiles, 1 can of cream of chicken soup, ½ jar of chunky salsa (the hotter, the better), 1 can of black beans (drained) and ¼ cup of milk. Cook on medium heat until bubbly, then turn off the heat.

Pour half of this mixture on top of the tortillas in the pan.

Cut up ½ of a Mexican Velveeta Cheese bar into small pieces and spread them on top of the soup mixture. You cannot substitute any other type of cheese or it will not taste like my casserole and I will not be responsible for the consequences.

Repeat with another layer of 9 torn up corn tortillas. Pour the rest of the soup mixture on top of these tortillas, then top with the rest of the Mexican Velveeta Cheese.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake in a 350° oven for 45 minutes.

Serve with chips and more salsa or guacamole. Sometimes I also make a side dish of Mexican rice which for me is just brown rice, the rest of the salsa and more green chiles.

And to make everyone really happy, serve ice cream for dessert. Reverend G likes Chunky Monkey. Enjoy!

©2015 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh