As we gather together this holiday season with our friends and family, sharing stories of Christmas and Hanukkahs past while making new memories with those we love, let’s also celebrate the love we share with those who have passed away.
The holidays are often a difficult time of year, especially when someone we’ve cherished has died.
But as we celebrate this season, we shouldn’t be afraid to celebrate the lives and memories of those who are no longer with us.
We can do this in many ways; we can keep them in our thoughts and prayers, honor them by helping others and we can share the stories of how these special people touched our lives.
In the course of 14 months, I lost my wife, my 17-year-old daughter, my father, my brother-in-law, and a close uncle by marriage.
People often ask how I deal with such loss. There is no secret.
I cherish the time I was given with all of them and consider myself graced by God to have had them in my life, no matter how long or short that time may have been. They helped shape who I am today and I treasure every moment I had with them.
I’m blessed to have had them in my life. I’m one of the lucky ones.
The hardest thing about losing anyone, especially your partner, is that you’re suddenly alone. And this feeling of loneliness is often heavier during the holidays.
When I lost my wife, Frances, I was alone for the first time in over 27 years. It takes a while to get used to, for sure.
Your bed is empty, which is really weird because you had become so accustomed to having someone next to you. Stranger still was waking up in the morning and seeing that her side of the bed was still made.
Then there would be times when something would cross my mind and I’d think, “Oh, I have to tell Frances” — only to realize she wasn’t there to tell.
Another hard thing is the loss of institutional memories — those memories we had of our life together before and after having children. There’s the important stuff and the fun stuff, like one of our children catching a huge fish while on vacation and having her picture on the front page of a local paper. Those were the things that bound us as one — the moments we shared together, the moments that were part of building a life and family together.
Now suddenly and forever, there is no one to share them with, no one to help me remember all those wonderful moments.
Those memories — like the muscles in our bodies — atrophy if not used, and over time become harder and harder to recall. They slip away into the ether of time.
How do we hang onto those memories while trying to navigate the chaos suddenly thrust upon our lives?
There is no partner to rely on anymore. And in times of quiet contemplation, you can find yourself very much alone.
Speaking of someone who has died is often a subject to be avoided. It’s a strange sort of denial.
If we don’t speak of that person then it didn’t happen; we don’t have to confront the pain of the loss we feel. It is much easier to ignore it, to suppress our feelings.
For others, it makes them uncomfortable, as if they might catch something if they acknowledge its existence.
But why should anyone be remembered only for their death — as if that defined the person and we shouldn’t speak of them anymore?
I believe that the best way to counter this dilemma is to celebrate the life of your loved ones, so as not to lose all of those institutional memories. Celebrating their lives is the last step in the healing process when someone close to us has died.
I lost the love of my life to cancer, but I don’t want to forget her. I don’t want to pretend that she never lived.
The best way to remember Frances is to tell her story, to celebrate the way she touched my life and the lives of everyone who knew her.
One evening, as I sat on the couch with her feet on my lap so I could rub her ankles, the entire family was gathered in the living room watching television — including her. With her focus on the TV, I stole an unguarded moment to behold her beauty, to treasure her image, and to commit it to memory for eternity. I knew at that point that she wasn’t going to be long with me — and I wanted to take as much of her in as possible. She looked over at me.
“What? What are you looking at?” she asked.
“You,” I said softly.
She knew what I meant and smiled. It was a stolen moment that I cherish to this day.
More than anything else that Frances and I shared, it was our minds that drew us together. It was that intangible thing called love that made our lives together so much fun.
The physical attraction was a given. Our souls were bound together with that electrical charge that emanates from us all.
We were one, intertwined so perfectly. It’s what made us best friends and lovers — and there is so much more to her story than her last days.
What defines our lost loved ones are all the years they spent touching the people they encountered. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to get stuck on what was the last moment of their lives. We should celebrate them with stories of their love.
The celebration of the lives of our loved ones who have passed is an essential step in coming to terms with their deaths. And it reminds us how lucky we are to have known them.
So, in the spirit and joy of this holiday season all around us, make sure to celebrate the continuing bonds with those you’ve lost by telling stories and sharing with others what made that person so special to you — and why you’re one of “the lucky ones.”
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