Wednesday, December 29, 2010


The holidays are hard enough without having to deal with recent loss or the reminder of loved ones lost long ago. My mom lives in a retirement community and one of her friends was celebrating his first Christmas without his wife of many years. If that wasn't bad enough, he received Christmas card after Christmas card addressed to both he and his wife. My father passed away 14 years ago and we'd receive letters addressed to him for quite a few years after his death. Each one reopening a wound.

Others suffer the double-wound of losing someone around the holidays, making a harsh reminder every year. I know some who have given up celebrating holidays or birthdays on account of such loss. It is a painful reminder every year of fond memories that can never again be relived and of our own mortality.

Chances are, you've lost someone dear to you this past year. If not, you certainly know someone else who has. Either way, it is also likely that the holidays remind you of loved ones lost years ago. For me, Christmas the first couple of years we had children were hard because I wished my dad and my grandma could have been around to celebrate with us. Each year I remember on Christmas 15 or 16 years ago when a close friend of the family brought his newborn daughter, Erin, over to my grandma's to show her off. I remember my dad being playful in a way I hadn't seen since I was young as she sat on his lap. I always wished to share the same experience with my own kids, but that was not meant to be. I lost him in September, right before his birthday. No significant holiday reminder of his death, yet the changing season and the turning of the leaves every year reminds me of his passing.

Specific to the holidays, not a Thanksgiving goes by that I don't remember Jenny. She was a couple of years older than me and her little brother was a year behind me in school. But we lived in a small town, so everyone knew everyone else. An annual "tradition"after many of us went off to college would be to gather the Friday after Thanksgiving at one of the local bars to catch up with old friends from school. We'd all gather and figure out where to head next for some big party- either at someone's house, or at one of the many popular hangouts outdoors (I grew up in an agriculture community, so many families had plenty of land on which to find a spot for a party). Cell phones were just beginning to get broad use, so that sped up the process as the time spent at the bar was shared with time on the phone coordinating plans.

That particular year we started at the usual spot and when no one showed, we moved on to another bar. One of my friends was constantly on his cell trying to find where everyone was headed. After a few drinks and a couple of rounds of pool, his phone started to ring. "Have you seen Jenny?" "Do you know where Jenny is?" "We haven't seen her for over an hour." With each subsequent call, the mood shifted away from celebration towards concern. Turns out the popular place to party that night was at a dock by the river. She was there. She wandered off. She disappeared. Her body washed up a couple of days later.

I didn't stick around town to find out the toxicology report. But I recall that she struggled with depression and substance abuse. But most couldn't understand. She graduated top of her class. She was popular and beautiful. But there was something missing. No one knows if it was an accident or suicide, but now every year her family is reminded of her death with every turkey carved. Even though not being particularly close to her, ask myself every Thanksgiving "where's Jenny".

"We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, concerning those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest, who have no hope." 1 Thessalonians 4:13


Lisa notes... said...

Tears well up in my eyes as I read your post. I lost both my parents this year, so Christmas hasn't been the same at all. We've tried to make the best of it, but frankly, I'm glad it's over now.

Such a sad story about Jenny. And your father not getting to watch your kids grow up. I'm so thankful we'll have eternity to make up for the losses down here that may be temporary, but still hurt while we're here.

S. Etole said...

This is so sad ... in such far reaching ways.

Anonymous said...

it is good to talk about the loss that is felt in the celebrations and traditions.

it is a huge part of life that people feel that they can not talk about, and tend to hold it in.

it is more healthy to be able to share it.

Fatha Frank said...

@Lisa, I'm so sorry to hear that. There's nothing more awkward than the first major holiday with family. Everyone wants to talk about it, but are afraid to bring it up. So everyone just sits there staring quietly at each other.

@Nance, definately we need to talk about it. And the most important thing is that we're not alone.