For our family, the holidays have always been filled with traditions that date back before I was born, each year a different telling of a story that has been decades in the making. Christmas Eve at my aunt's house, my uncle playing Santa and passing out gifts as a big pot of gumbo simmered on the stove. Adults around the kitchen table discussing adult things, never a shortage of cousins to get into trouble with, Christmas Mass by candlelight, a big Christmas Day lunch with all the trimmings. The older we got and the more our family grew, the traditions just got richer and filled with more meaning. This was our way, these memories are what defined the season for me and what I wanted my own children to experience.
But then life happens and things change and you realize that nothing stays familiar forever. Five years ago, my parents got divorced, my grandmother passed away, and my cousin and her husband were killed in a tragic accident. Suddenly, no one felt like celebrating anything anymore. The old familiar routines we held so dear were now painful reminders of the people we missed so deeply, relationships broken, heartache replacing happy memories. Those years were difficult, dark times and I struggled with the holidays. I wanted things to be the way that they used to be. I wanted us all to be together. I remember crying right through that first Christmas Eve after my parents separated, the whole night felt like a dress rehearsal gone wrong. This wasn't what Christmas was supposed to feel like! We were all supposed to be together! But we weren't. And we never would be again. Nothing steals your Christmas spirit quite like the anger that accompanies grief.
The year of Shawn's accident, we went out of town for every single holiday. We needed something fresh and new, a different perspective to pick us up and carry us through that exhausting chapter of our lives. We visited our best friends in Florida and enjoyed a soul reviving Thanksgiving on the beach. We drove out to see family in Texas and enjoyed different foods and customs. It was all so different and out of our norm but it was refreshing and I felt a part of my heart begin to open. Because no matter where we were or who we were with, the spirit of the holiday and the magic of the season was IN US. It was all still happening no matter how sad I was that we weren't in my aunt's living room or under my grandmother's tree. Life was moving on and we were growing and changing ourselves and God was showing me that new things, beautiful things, were waiting for me to open up my heart and see.
For the last two years, I have done just that: I have opened up my heart and I have worked through my grief and I am thankful for where we are in this very moment. In the last two years, our family has started to move to the beat of a new drum, the familiar hum of the past serving as a foundation as we break into new songs and create our own melody. We're starting new traditions and gathering in different places and it's all starting to feel like home again. We have suffered loss and struggled to keep it all together but, in the end, we are a family. Those memories and traditions are the way that the ones we have lost will live on, the familiar sights and smells and sounds reminding us of how wonderful things used to be while still appreciating how far we've come. And how blessed we are to be able to experience what lies ahead.