I’ve always known there are “grave blankets”. But for the first time I noticed “Memory” tree decorations posted on Social Media:
Some refer to our loved ones, and some to our fur babies. The theology of most of these may be in question. But one thing is certain: In times of celebration, missing a loved one can be raw and unrelenting. We notice the empty place at the table. We miss their laughter and special place in our celebrations. And there is the anticipation of loss even leading up to Christmas, or any holiday for that matter. It is no wonder that by the time Christmas comes around we are exhausted. And we haven’t even added in Covid.
On Social Media, people give voice to many emotions. Hear the ache in this young woman’s heart as she grieves the unexpected loss of her grandmother:
“I have spent every Christmas, for the last 35 years, with my Nanni. When I think about what it’s going to be like this year, without her, I fall into a puddle of tears and can barely catch my breath. I ache for her. And although my Julianna reminds me daily that she’s in God’s presence, I selfishly wish for her to be back in my presence. These window candles were hers. I remember being little and sneaking into her room to click them on and off while watching the Christmas lights across the street. The house would smell like pierogies, Frank Sinatra’s Christmas album would be playing, there would be laughter coming from every room while Pap took forever to perfect the lobster bisque. And now, every time I see this candle in my window, every memory comes flooding back. And although, right now, it hurts, I am thankful for every precious Christmas we shared together.”
“It would have been Dad’s 100th birthday this Christmas. I miss him so.”
“I miss calling my Mom after the Christmas pageant. She always wanted to hear how the kids did!”
“I don’t know how I’m going to get through this Christmas without_______ (my mother, sister, brother, etc.)”
Why post this on Social Media? Because it gives voice to the very real and raw grief that we endure. It is the human condition. We are not exempt to the pain of the human experience.
There was a particular video making its rounds a few months ago, and it was poignant and painfully true:
“Here’s to the ones that we got Cheers to the wish you were here, but you’re not ‘Cause the drinks bring back all the memories Of everything we’ve been through.”
This is the official Maroon 5 – Memories Cover by One Voice Children’s Choir. It was made during the quarantine period of the COVIC-19 pandemic using videos recorded by choir members at their homes. Over 8 million people watched “Memories; ” it rang so true with so many. Why? Perhaps because it was sung by children. Their innocence and vulnerability speaks to the deepest part of us, as we too miss those who should be with us.
Psalm 34:18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
Mark Schultz wrote ‘A Different Kind Of Christmas,’ in 2014 after the loss of his father in law. “I’ve discovered that mourning is real and okay. So is celebrating the lives of the ones we miss. I hope the words of ‘Different Kind Of Christmas’ help your listeners reflect, grieve, and celebrate the ones they love.” – Mark Schultz
Perhaps Mark Schultz has described how best to approach Christmas 2020. Mourning is real and it is okay. We can reflect, grieve, but also celebrate those we’ve lost. It is good to know that God draws near in Jesus Christ.
During holidays, our thoughts and our hearts often turn toward home.
Simon and Garfunkel
“Homeward bound, I wish I was homeward bound, Home where my thought’s escaping, Home where my music’s playing Home where my love lies waiting silently for me.”
Wizard of Oz
“There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home…..”
“There’s no Place Like Home for the Holidays”
You can’t get through Christmas without hearing this song. If you’re listening to any Christmas station, you are going to hear it.
“Oh, there’s no place like home for the holidays ‘Cause no matter how far away you roam If you want to be happy in a million ways For the holidays, you can’t beat home, sweet home.”
And it pulls at our heart strings, doesn’t it? And what is home? And where is home?
“I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas”
“The sun is shining, the grass is green The orange and palm trees sway I’ve never seen such a day in Beverly Hills, L.A. But it’s December the 24th and I am longing to be up North:
I’m dreaming of a white Christmas Just like the ones I used to know Where the tree-tops glisten and children listen To hear sleigh bells in the snow.
I’m dreaming of a white Christmas With every Christmas card I write. May your days be merry and bright And may all your Christmases be white.” (Irving Berlin)
This poignant song of Christmas is a favorite, and brings on waves of nostalgia. But there is more to the background. Look at the history of the song:
“There are layers of reasons that give this seemingly simple song such enduring depth. On the outer layer, Berlin recalled the homesickness he felt for his wife and daughters in 1937 when they were in their home in New York celebrating Christmas and he was working in Los Angeles.
Certainly, Christmas in Los Angeles was what inspired the original opening stanza that hardly anyone sings anymore.
Timing is one of the elements that propelled this song to stardom. Bing Crosby first sang it on the radio on Christmas Day in 1941, just weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7.
The following Christmas, the song resonated even more powerfully among young Americans who found themselves overseas, missing their families, and among their families, who were missing them. It continues to evoke longing that echoes for anyone who dreams of a time before the loss of someone dear.”
World War 2 was fought Sept 1, 1939-Sept 2, 1945. These pivotal years were also pivotal in my family. My mother, Mary Lee Wright, left her home in Checotah, Oklahoma on Christmas night, 1944 to take a long train to New Jersey. There she married my father Joseph G. Lippincott, Sr. on Jan 2, 1945. We heard the story often, how my Grandfather took my mother to the train. Grannie Wright (as we called her) stayed home. We can imagine how hard it was to see their daughter leave. And remember, in those days we seldom called home: it was too expensive. Air flight was rare. Trains took a minimum of 2 days. The family story stirs up separation and loss, but also joy and love and warm welcome and fresh new beginnings.
Richness of The Present
It comes as no surprise that the scene of poignant goodbyes is still with us. When my husband Bob and I were dating, I spent my first Christmas away from home with his family in Western PA.
Yes, it was a white Christmas, but I remember my heart catching in my throat as I called home to NJ to wish them all a Merry Christmas.
“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”
And this year, in 2020, there have been so many separations and goodbyes.
Home for the Holidays
A friend recently gave me a pillow that states:
“Home: A place where you always feel welcome and loved. An environment of comfort, security and happiness. A place of feeling or belonging.”
Our Eternal Home
Home may change. And yes, this year will be different. Perhaps there will be fewer parties and large dinner gatherings. But in so doing, perhaps the deconstruction of Christmas as we have known it, will reveal a treasured kernel of truth. In the changes of 2020, what remains permanent and unchanging?
“O God, Our help in ages past Our hope in years to come. Our shelter from the stormy blast, and Our Eternal Home.”
He is Our Eternal Home
Jesus Himself knew what leaving His Father and coming to Earth meant.
“Thou didst leave Thy throne and Thy kingly crown, When Thou camest to earth for me; But in Bethlehem’s home was there found no room For Thy holy nativity. O come to my heart, Lord Jesus, There is room in my heart for Thee.”
We can Come Home Again
In this fractured year, where our hopes and dreams of all the years may not be met?They are met in Jesus. The concept of “home” is so much richer and deeper than Christmas time. He is our eternal home. Let us prepare Him room.
It’s Christmastime. The time of parties and family gatherings; the time of traditions and trees; the time of quiet reflection and worship. And this year will be no different: or will it? As much as we’d like to have this Christmas season be like any other, we have to admit that 2020 will stretch us and challenge us.
If you’ve watched the movie “Christmas Vacation” you’re familiar with Clark Griswold as he tries to create the perfect Christmas holiday. In the beginning, he comments plaintively: “All my life I’ve wanted to have a big family Christmas.” And he tries desperately to accomplish that task.
Things slowly fall apart, but Clark won’t give up his dream: “Where do you think you’re going? Nobody’s leaving. Nobody’s walking out on this fun, old- fashioned family Christmas. No, no. We’re all in this together. This is a full-blown, four-alarm holiday emergency here.” We recognize his desires for we harbor them within ourselves. We all have great expectations.
The Picture Perfect Christmas
1. The perfect portrait. We first must recognize that no one ever has a picture perfect Christmas. Despite what you have seen on social media?
Those smiling faces? How many takes did it take to get that picture? How many diaper changes and clothes changes were required? Recognize the humanity that lurks behind those posts.
2. The perfect tree. No one has a perfect tree. You may have gone to cut yours down on a snowy day that resembled New England, with hot chocolate and cookies. The tree may also have a big bald spot on the area that is turned towards the window, out of sight. It might be scant: a Charlie Brown tree. You may have an artificial tree. Is this considered second best? Or, it might be a retro green ceramic tree with plastic lights on each point.
3. The perfect family. In “Christmas Vacation” Clark sits in the attic watching old home movies, reminiscing about the good old days. Nostalgia reigns, for a moment. But no one has the perfect family. And aren’t we all imperfect? As we age, we realize we ourselves might be the crazy Aunt or Uncle with idiosyncrasies. No family is free of conflict or differences. But during the holidays, we tend to look through “rose colored glasses.”
4. The perfect Christmas Feast. What does that look like anyway? Is it on Christmas Eve? Or Christmas day? Is it a Feast of the Seven dishes, or pasta, or vegetarian?
5. The perfect present. We may look high and low for “just the right gift.” Going from store to store, looking for the perfect gift that will light up their life. This year, ease of shopping has been restricted and much of our shopping has been online. But then I found this online:
“I don’t remember what I had for Christmas when I was one, two, six, or eight. I do remember my Grandad’s roast potatoes and my Nanna’s tablecloth. I remember us squishing around a table and it feeling magical. I remember the magic of the tin of chocolates being passed around. I remember playing games with family. I remember walking up a cold, frosty path and feeling warm inside. I remember the smell of my Grandad’s cologne. It’s the memories that make the magic last a lifetime, not the gifts.”
Perfectionism and Reality
And so, for this Christmas especially, our striving to make our holiday “perfect” might in fact, fall very short.
“Did we in our own Strength Confide, Our striving would be losing.” (“A Mighty Fortress,” Luther.)
There are so very many factors that will contribute to a “Different kind of Christmas this year.” How can we approach Christmas and not be sorely disappointed?
1. Recognize Perfectionism. Perfectionism is a harsh taskmaster. It was present in so many of my clients; I’ve worked on that stubborn root within myself for a long time. But my long time friend Dr. Michael Emlet from CCEF has said this:
“Make faithfulness your aim, not perfection.” #ccefcon 10/26/12
2. Recognize Comparison Comparing ourselves to others is a cousin to perfectionism. Comparison kills contentment. In this year especially, our family gathering may be smaller. Some may be missing from our table. None of us will have “the perfect” family gathering this year.
3. Recognize “We’ve always done it this way.” Not this year. This is the year to adjust, bend, and be creative. While traditions may be important, (See Thanksgiving Traditions), where can we accommodate 2020 nuances?
4. Recognize God Incarnate. 2 Corinthians 8:9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
A Broken World, A Broken 2020
God Himself entered into our broken world, becoming poor for our sake. He Himself would recognize the brokenness of 2020. He Himself would understand our battered will, a raveled mind, and broken dreams. But He would also hold our frayed hearts in His tender hands.
Toys for a King Mary H. Dewer What gifts to please a little boy Who has the whole world for His toy? Through Him, in Him and with Him live The lovely playthings I would give— Black branches traced on afterglow, Blue moonlight on the wind-glazed snow, Music, and singing words—but these were always His. Upon my knees I cannot ask a King to take The stars He watched His Father make.
Here on the clean straw of His throne, I lay the only things I own— A battered will, a raveled mind, A broken dream I cannot wind. If I had come to Him before, And laid them on the stable floor, Not scratched and finger-marked with sin, How new and gay they would have been. Yet strange things catch a baby’s eyes— There in His hand my frayed heart lies.
We have just celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday, at least if you are Stateside. Although it was different this year, most people still managed to make a turkey and the fixings….or join with others who were celebrating. Thanksgiving Traditions.
What has struck me with this particular Thanksgiving is that we do have so much for which to give thanks. Many are in dire straits, and many are in grief. This pandemic drags on and can drag us down. On Social Media, we viewed smiling families whether a crowd or a simple two or three. Despite the implications of all that 2020 has brought, we seem able to set those things aside and give thanks to the Lord.
“Give Thanks to the Lord for He is good; His love endures forever.” Ps 107:1
Hymns and Home
Liturgical Seasons in the church are marked with ceremony, symbols and songs. It is fitting then, that Thanksgiving has its own set of music that draws us to give thanks. One of the features of the church is to sing together. Newer praise songs abound.
“Give thanks with a grateful heart, Give thanks to the Holy One. Give thanks, because He’s given Jesus Christ, His Son.”
And the old, traditional hymns give us a rich heritage of theology, ability to be sung, and learning how to “read” 4 part harmony as well as sing it and harmonize. Being raised in a church with a magnificent pipe organ gave me an appreciation for sacred music that I cherish. I can still sing most hymns, all 4 verses. First Presbyterian Church of Salem, NJ has a rich heritage of excellency in music. I give credit to our choir director, Bea Howland, and singing in children’s choir and festivals. Given the first few words, I’m off and running with music. It is very much reflected here:
“Church is not something you go to. It’s a family you belong to.” (@imsoblesseddaily)
So as we sing:
“We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing He chastens and hastens his will to make known The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing Sing praises to his name, he forgets not his own.”
We remember His blessings, His faithfulness to all generations.
“Come, ye thankful people come; Raise the song of harvest home. All is safely gather in Ere the winter storms begin. God, our Maker, doth provide For our wants to be supplied. Come to God’s own temple, come; Raise the song of harvest home.”
We remember His blessings, His faithfulness to all generations.
My friend, Craig Denison is Associate Professor of Music Education and Choral Music at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. His bio reads: “I like music. I like teaching.” He posted this on Social Media:
“I didn’t know how much I missed hearty congregational singing until I heard this today.” Craig Denison (Referencing The Salisbury Advent Service)
His friends added to his sentiment: “Entering the Advent/Christmas season with no singing is hitting me hard.” “The biggest loss in our Covid lives, in my opinion.” “I can’t listen to any ensemble singing yet…my wounded heart can’t take it!”
It is difficult to sing when we feel that our efforts are truncated, held back, repressed.
Psalm 100:2 Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs
“Now thank we all our God With hearts and hands and voices, Who wondrous things hath done, In whom his earth rejoices; Who, from our mothers’ arms, Hath blessed us on our way With countless gifts of love And still is ours today.”
Come ye Thankful People, Come!
And so for now we give thanks, with hearts and hands and voices. Our church, Oreland Evangelical Presbyterian Church has been called “A Singing Church.” And we are. We sing with enthusiasm and harmony and grateful hearts. But for now, we have muffled voices as we sing with masks. I am aware of the mask moving in and out as I take a full breath of praise. Our voices may not rise in full volume and harmony.
Face to Face
1 Corinthians 13:12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
The day will come when our masks will be removed. We lift our hearts up as we await the day when we can see one another face to face. We will reflect His glory to one another.
“When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord.” Ex 34:29
Until then, we sing with full hearts, full hands, and full voices. We look forward to the time when we can be fully known, as he fully knows us.
Christmas seems to come earlier each year. Stores put up their trees in August! And we are inundated with ads everywhere.
Smiling faces all aglow—or so it seems, doesn’t it? But there are those for whom this Christmas will be very different.
How do we help those who are struggling?
Understand that even those with the smile pasted on their face may be hurting. There have been major changes this year for us all. Ranging from job and food insecurity, illness, COVID, and loss of loved ones.
Look with eyes of accuracy. Look with our hearts as well as our eyes.
Depression and Anxiety
We may find others in this boat; we may find ourselves. What are some practical steps we can take to reach out?
Because that person has shown up at Services, or work, or responsibilities, don’t assume they are “okay.” And don’t take the “Okay” for a final answer.
“We may never know the treacherous journey people have taken to land in the pew next to us.” Rosaria Butterfield
Many are hanging by a thread. “Pandemic Fatigue” is very real. So ask gently: “How are you doing?” “These days are hard. Have you found that to be true?” “You don’t seem quite yourself. Can I help?”
Sometimes people will say “I’m just fine as long as you don’t ask me how I’m doing.” Tears are not an indication of sorrow that you asked. It is an indication of our humanity and that we may have piqued a tender area that needs our comfort. Open the door to a safe emotional place for them.
2. Offer Vulnerability
“I’m struggling, too! And not much of that is the holiday itself.” “I don’t know how to handle this Christmas; it is so different than anything before!” “My losses are so raw.”
This is the time to listen. And listen more. There IS a time to be silent and a time to speak.
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens, a time to be silent and a time to speak.” Ecclesiastes 3:1,7
Often the best comfort we can give someone is to be silent.
“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. James 1:19
Repeating what they have just said may often open the door for more thoughts as they take the risk of offering you their struggles. “I can tell you are hurting.”
Recognizing and affirming them offers credibility.
“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Colossians 4:6
Carefully explore their hurt and pain. As we find their story credible, we may ask: “I think I understand; can you tell me more about that?” Or, “I don’t understand. Can you try again?”
6. No Competition
This is not the time for “One up man-ship.” “Oh, I know what you mean! My family has…….” “Yeah, really? Let me tell you……” “You think?” “Duh!”
These answers leave the person feeling defeated and minimized. Affirm their pain and experience. And in doing this, we are loving well.
7. “Tis the Season to Drop Platitudes
Offering advice, especially when you haven’t been asked, tends to fall coldly on weary shoulders. Explore carefully.
And have we really “walked in their shoes?” Do we really understand their situation? We rarely see the whole story. Often people are like Icebergs: What we see on the top side is only revealing a fraction of the pain that runs deep and strong.
8. The Blame Game
“Should have, would have, and could have” will break us. Blaming others for what they could have done leads to guilt and remorse. Blaming ourselves falls into this category, as well.
Can we offer grace and mercy instead?
“A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” Isaiah 42:3
Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus
This is the time we celebrate the coming of Jesus into our broken world.
An old Christmas Carol tells us:
“Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour, All for love’s sake becamest poor; Thrones for a manger didst surrender, Sapphire-paved courts for stable floor. Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour, All for love’s sake becomes poor.”
May we, for love’s sake, become poor to love others well.
If you are ever on the roads at Thanksgiving, you will know that this is the most traveled holiday of the year. People seem to be yearning to return to Mom and Dad’s, or go over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house. (Do they sing that song anymore? Do kids even know what it means?)
Will there even be Thanksgiving? There is talk of restrictions, curfews and limiting invitations to your own immediate family. A general malaise surrounds the holiday as we think of Thanksgiving past—and Thanksgiving present.
What are some of the traditions and memories that have made Thanksgiving so special? Every family is different, with favorite foods. My mother was an excellent cook, and because she wanted to have something for everyone, would never consider eliminating one dish.
Coming from the South, my mother made mashed potatoes and turnips. I hated them. But because my brothers liked them, they were mandatory. (No bitterness here…) They almost looked like regular mashed potatoes and you had to be careful to distinguish the two; a mouthful of that nasty stuff was a rude surprise. I hate them to this day. Regular mashed potatoes? Bring them on. Heaping mountains of white fluffy potatoes, with a river of butter. My niece Megan, loved them too, so she sat on one side of me and we would jostle for portions. And candied sweet potatoes? The stuff of heaven. Sweet, crunchy goodness. My other niece, Melanie would sit on the other side of me, and we’d divide them.
Going into the oven early in the day, the bird roasted slowly and released enticing aromas to tantalize our tastebuds. Stuffing and gravy followed. Rounding it out were peas, coleslaw, a vegetable tray, creamed onions, rolls and I hope I haven’t forgotten any! Others have told me their table included: ham, creamed corn pudding, creamed rice, turkey stuffing balls, Gelatin salad, Sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, macaroni and cheese, lasagna, spanakopita, and lobster.
There has been a running question on Social Media concerning the critical question: Canned or Homemade Whole cranberry sauce. It is a hotly debated topic. Even this is a family tradition.
Finally, the Pie! Pumpkin, Apple and sometimes Pecan pie. Whipped cream or ice cream? And we begged Mom to not include Mincemeat pie. Others included coconut cake or lemon butter.
Lemon butter should have its own category. It is a whipped confection of tart lemons, sugar and butter, cooked to perfection. This dish has been in the family of my Sister in law, Sylvia, handed down from her Great Grandmother. This year, Sylvia was unable to make it as she had surgery. But Haley was freshly home from college, and came over to help. If I’m counting correctly, this recipe would be from Haley’s Great (x3) Grandmother. The fact that the recipe is marred with drops of lemons makes it more precious. As they busied themselves in the kitchen, you can almost hear the generations that have gone before, watching as “a great cloud of witnesses.” (Hebrews 12: 1-3.)
Both my Mother and my brother had birthdays around Thanksgiving. Often, my brother’s birthday fell on Thanksgiving Day, as it did this year. My mother, ever mindful of our favorite dishes, traditionally made a German Sweet Chocolate Cake. And it was a glory of butter, coconut, pecans, and of course, German Sweet Chocolate; layered together with the icing between three layers of tender cake. And a key ingredient was buttermilk. (See Cornbread and Buttermilk). But this year would be different. It is 2020 and my niece, Melanie was to bring the cake for her Dad. She was unable to come to Thanksgiving dinner. But this would not deter her from her mission. She drove 2 hours to delivery the cake, and then go home. The tradition we all loved was carried on again, to the 3rd generation.
My mother always set a formal table. The table cloth had been pressed without one wrinkle. Gleaming crystal and silver stood sentry next to each piece of antique family china. A floral arrangement graced the center of the table, and candles were lit. It was my job the night before to set the table and clean the silver; a familiar ritual of love. My brother and his wife continue this tradition to this day and set a lovely table with the same antique china we used growing up. Again, you can almost hear the generations that have gone before, watching as “a great cloud of witnesses.” Rockwell created a famous painting of Thanksgiving dinner entitled: “Freedom from Want.” It is well known and seems to capture Thanksgiving Past. I can’t help but notice the smiling faces as we catch this “snapshot” into their dinner.
A Family Thanksgiving?
This year, what will be the “snapshot” of our dinner? Will it be formal? Or will it be more casual as we huddle outside around a fire pit? Will it be formal with china and silver? Or more relaxed with paper plates and plastic knives and forks? It doesn’t really matter what we serve for dinner does it? Whether turkey or ham, or any of the plethora of vegetable options. Tradition is defined as the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation. The memories and joy of being together can still be forged even today, in 2020. Traditions, old and new, form the glue that binds us together and is handed down through the generations, much like fine china and silver.
“Bind us together Lord, bind us together with cords that cannot be broken.”
It is the legacy of generations past, and generations future. It is the fellowship around the Holiday table that merge and mold us together, family and friends. It is the stuff of creating memories, tradition, and home. For this Thanksgiving, let us embrace tradition, pass on what is necessary and good, and be flexible when needed. And in all things, let us Praise God from Whom all Blessings Flow.
I’ve been on a baking spree recently, baking cornbread. Now, I love cornbread as much as the next person, but this has a background. A recipe was posted online that was from a Grandmother. It was a family favorite and often requested.
It beat out homemade rolls and bread. And the love of the recipe was handed down from generation to generation.
There is a special bond between mothers and daughters. If you are fortunate, you have been nurtured and loved. A mother’s guidance and character have poured into you intentionally, and even more, unintentionally.
“Her children arise and call her blessed.” Proverbs 31:28
As I’ve been making my cornbread, I’ve thought a lot about my own mother. She loved cornbread.
She showed me how to put a bit of oil in each muffin pan, and pop it in the oven to melt. Then we poured in the batter. It rose with a crown and a golden crusty finish. The aroma filled the kitchen. Creamery butter awaited. My mother also had a cast iron mold for cornbread. Because Mom was from the South, Oklahoma to be exact, cornbread was cherished.
But let me get back to the recipe. I’ve learned over the years to substitute plain milk if you don’t have buttermilk on hand. Simply take 1 cup of milk and add 2 Tb of vinegar and stir. Pop it into the microwave and Voila! Instant buttermilk. But you see: this latest baking binge was for a project. And I wanted the recipe to be “just right” so buttermilk was purchased. Mom loved buttermilk. When she used it, she always reserved a glass for dinner.
As I pulled the pans of cornbread from the oven, the aroma was intoxicating. And I noticed the bread was raised high; much higher than the other pans I had made. Curious. It tasted the same, but the texture was so much better! Light and fluffy! What had made the difference? The buttermilk.
The is the first of the major holidays this year: Thanksgiving and Christmas. And I’ve noticed a lot of people are posting how they miss their mothers. For one friend, this is the first holiday without Mom. Her daughter is missing her grandmother.
One of my favorite books in counseling was “Motherless Daughters” by Hope Edelman. There are so many of us without mothers. And we miss them.
“That feeling of “I want my Mom” has no age limit, no time limit, and no distance limit.”
Mom’s birthday is tomorrow. As always, anniversaries are hard.Grief and Loss During the Holidays I miss her so. “I want my Mom” has never been more true. I will never learn to like buttermilk. But I so appreciate it now more than ever before. And somehow, I think Mom might be smiling and saying:
“Sometimes the tried and true ways are best. And sometimes, Mom does know best.”
This summer was difficult, wasn’t it? Vacations were cancelled, flights were delayed, and the every growing Pandemic pressed heavily upon us. The splendor of spring and new flowers popping up was replaced by drying leaves and wilted blossoms. Too hot to garden and tend to weeds. Time to rest on the porch with a tall lemonade.
Dog Days of Summer
Even our dog, Ella seemed to be lethargic. She is a Cavapoo and we take about 3-4 walks each day. Some of these are, shall we say…mandatory? But she even seemed to “poop out” on longer walks. Her vim and vigor flagged. When we arrived at home, she flopped on the cool floor for a reprieve. We all felt it.
There was a certain weariness to it all. The heat, the humidity press in upon us in Eastern PA. But along with Covid, the isolation and separation dragged on. Unable to visit with family and friends, we felt like we were “wilting on the vine.”
But sure as Fall follows Summer, the welcome cool nights came upon us. I generally note that I make it through Summer by counting the cold fronts that come through our area. Each one is a clearing and welcome relief to the blanching, drying heat. By Mid-September, we can count on the change.
But in walking the dog, I began to see a change. I first noticed the colors of Fall in decorations. Was it just me? Were there more decorations out than normal? Did the orange pumpkins pop more brightly? Did gourds ever seem so yellow and nearly glow against hay bales? The clear cobalt sky was a backdrop to the riot of color, even highlighting dark brown, bleak branches reaching to the heavens. Sunsets became even more vibrant and clear. Corn stalks were tied to banisters and pillars, with neat arrangements at their feet. It all seemed to shout out: “We need color! We need vibrant hope!”
I’ve already written about Halloween here:A COVID Halloween So many homes got into the spirit and decorated, with anticipation of little ones coming to the front door. Perhaps we needed a reason to celebrate? Perhaps we needed a reason to hope.
Renewal for us All
The crisp, cool air was almost palpable in renewal for us. Even Ella perked up. She walked with energy in her steps. A whirling breeze might bring a gust that blew her ears back, flapping. Not to be deterred, she pointed her nose up and pressed on. She clearly reveled in it. Leaves were to be chased. Sticks were to be picked up and carried along our path. And I might note: Her pride in carrying the largest log possible was evident. Head held high, and her gait could only be described as strutting and prancing.
Rain storms and Cold Fronts
This past week brought rain, wind, and a flurry of leaves to the ground. Our path was often a carpet of blazing crimson. Or perhaps a splattering of golden hues that resembled the “Yellow brick road.” How can one resist the urge to kick leaves and revel in the crunch beneath our feet?
It was a glorious riot of color that warmed our hearts and souls, and brought little children to our front yard to leap in the leaves. Could there be anything more glorious than that youthful enthusiasm and joy? Does anything match children’s laughter and giggles?
The hard summer has been followed by the glory of Fall.
“There us not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice.” John Calvin
Perhaps the best quote of Fall belongs to Ann of Green Gables:
We are so grateful for Fall and all it brings.
I, for one, am so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.
As a Counselor, I found the Holiday times to be particularly troubling to my clients. Sure, there is the stress of decorating, cleaning, setting tables, and gifts bought and wrapped. I’d say 90% of my counseling from Nov1-Jan 15 involved “Holiday issues” including “family issues.”
But I also saw a great deal of grief and loss surrounding the holidays. How do we get through a holiday when there is an empty seat at the table? (See my previous posts on dealing with Grief: Grief 101, Grief 102)
I’ve seen whispers of loss on FB already. “Happy birthday in Heaven, Mama.” “Happy birthday, brother.” Usually these posts are accompanied by a picture. The pain and loss are palpable.
My own sister, Carol Lynn, died before I was born. Her birthday was Nov 1, and I pass that day thinking of her. What would it have been like to have had an older sister? Would we have fought? Or would we be best of friends? I know her loss was a defining event for my parents. No one ever gets over losing a child.
Would have, Should have, Could have
These words express loss and regret. “If only I would have treated them differently.” “If should have been with them in their suffering.” “I could have done things differently.” These are expressions we all know and use commonly. Can you hear it? The pain and loss are palpable.
Anniversaries and Birthdays
We celebrate those we love on these special days. But when a loved one is gone, these days pique our longing for them. Should we mention this date? Should we ignore it? Won’t it make the person even more sad and lonely? We fear bringing on more sadness.
Do not think that ignoring or not speaking of them will make things better. For the one in deep mourning, to remember the loved one brings credibility to their life. It helps to remember them with sorrow, yes, but also with joy. It means their life mattered. It means their life here, for whatever amount of time, made an impact on others.
Perhaps the best thing we do in Grief Counseling is to listen well. The Grief cycle is long and hard. To try to run ahead and ignore the stages is fruitless. It takes time to process.
This is not the time for quick and easy answers, or platitudes.
A Time for Every Season
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: 2 a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, 3 a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, 5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, 6 a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, 7 a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, 8 a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.
A Time to be Silent and a Time to Speak
In this Holiday season? Let’s seek Wisdom in knowing when to be silent, and when to speak. And when we speak, let it be winsome and gentle. Let’s honor those we’ve lost with remembrance. Let’s reach out to those around us and speak into their lives kindness, comfort, and hope; ultimately, let’s bring others tidings of Comfort and Joy.
Tiding of Comfort and Joy
God rest ye merry gentlemen Let nothing you dismay Remember Christ our Savior Was born on Christmas Day To save us all from Satan’s pow’r When we were gone astray
Oh tidings of comfort and joy Comfort and joy Oh tidings of comfort and joy
Does anyone sell poppies anymore? I remember them as a child and teenager in my small town. I don’t think the deep implications were clear to me at that point.
As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to appreciate them more.
I found this explanation recently:
“Wear the poppy on the right side; the red represent the blood of all those who gave their lives, the black represents the mourning of those who didn’t have their loved ones return home, and the green leaf represents the grass and crops growing and future prosperity after the war destroyed so much.
The leaf should be positioned at 11 o’clock to represent the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the time that World War 1 formally ended.”
Why the Poppy?
In Flanders fields the poppies blowBetween the crosses, row on row That marks our place; and in the sky The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below. We are the Dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved, and now we lie in Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe: To you from failing hands we throw the torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields.
In Flanders Fields, John McCrae 1915
American Legion Auxiliary Poppy Program: Connecting the visual image of the poppy with the sacrifice of service made by our veterans has been an important goal of the American Legion Auxiliary Poppy Program since its inception in 1921. On Memorial Day and Veterans Day, millions of red crepe paper poppies—all handmade by veterans as part of their therapeutic rehabilitation—are distributed across the country in exchange for donations that go directly to assist disabled and hospitalized veterans in our communities. https://www.alaforveterans.org/Poppy/
Where are the Poppies?
I haven’t seen a poppy in years. I may not be positioned in the appropriate groups or clubs. But it is telling that as I reflect on Veterans Day I first think of poppies and of Service.
Faith of our Fathers
Both of our fathers fought in WW2. It wasn’t something they talked about readily, but we knew it had impacted them deeply.
We felt it as much in how they carried themselves; how they sung the national anthem with respect. How we went to Memorial Day parades and watched Veterans march by. Memorial Day 2020
How they hung the American flag with great ceremony.
Pass it On
And so we appreciate all our fathers did, and the legacy they passed on to us. We saw it as they shared the simple beauty of raising the flag on a sunny morning. But the significance in that ritual was in the sharing with a small boy.
Teaching through example was important.
I learned so much from my Dad. But respect for my Country was right at the top of the list.
I know when I see a flag at night it should be lit up. I know the ceremony of raising and lowering the flag. I can’t hear the plaintive melancholy notes of “Taps” without thinking of my Dad.
I know how a flag should be folded—solemnly and with great reverence.
And so his legacy has been passed on.
My brother continues to lift the flag every morning at their home overlooking the Delaware River that we all loved so well.
It is our prayer that it is passed on to younger generations as well.
Thanks Veterans for your service to our country. Thanks to those who have gone before us.