As we get older, holidays are a mixed blessing. As a child, we looked upon these special days with great anticipation and awe. We would count the days until we had that huge turkey dinner for Thanksgiving or ham dinner on Easter. You would get to see all your relatives that the family chose to celebrate with which might have meant they would travel to visit or you would travel to the family Matriarch’s house.
Maybe there was a restaurant that you would all go to for the big meal or maybe everyone pitched in to create your family’s great feast. There would always be a certain order to the events and as kids we quickly learned the boundaries of our parents and the other adults present. We knew when we could run inside the house or risk being shuffled outside to play (weather permitting).
As time passed, these traditions may have softened or changed as the face of our families changed. Grandparents aged out of being able to host so the feast was moved to their favorite restaurant or maybe the mean was brought to a Loved One who was now in a nursing home.
We adapted to the changes and learned how to keep family traditions going which had been so revered and important as we were growing up. Eventually, our older, beloved family members no longer participated, and the trips to visit them on holidays were replaced by sending flowers and cards to let them know we remembered them and missed them dearly.
We carried on our family traditions without the oldest members as our parents aged and became the matriarchs and patriarchs. We adapted to doing things in the ways that they found worked best. Sometimes that meant continuing a tradition or sometimes it meant ending a tradition, as the family member who it meant the most to was no longer attending or maybe even living.
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
One tradition that changed for me was having creamed pearl onions at Thanksgiving. Personally, I have never liked creamed pearl onions but they were my dad’s favorite side dish. Their absence at a Thanksgiving meal serves to remind me of the bigger wound: that my dad is also absent.
As our parents age out of the roles of head of the family, then we take over. We include them as much as possible while they are here and carry on the traditions we know mean so much to them. After they pass, and it is just us and our kids, we may invite neighbors and friends to join in our holiday celebrations. We add new things to these revered days that our children suggest, or maybe something that we always secretly were thinking about but never dared ask to add while the older family members were still alive.
Eventually, our parents are long gone and our children are grown up and living lives of their own. We may be fortunate to have them living close by so that the traditions can continue but may times, we have to share them with their partner’s family and only get them every other year for one of these treasured holidays.
Starting New Traditions
You may need – or want – to start new traditions. That’s ok.
For us, one of our new traditions is having holidays with other friends in the same situation. They also no longer have older family members that they celebrate with and maybe children only able to join for one holiday a year.
Sometimes we are able to join our children for a holiday so we get to see them twice a year! These holidays are treasured and mean so very much. However, the rest of the year we celebrate our holidays with our spouse, alone or with local friends who are in the same place in life.
As I sit here writing this, I am fully aware of the haunted feeling that surrounds me as I think about all the Easter Sundays past. I know that beloved traditions may live again once we have grandchildren, but for now they are memories.
The grief I have for my parents and not being able to spend the day with them is fresh yet again, even though they have been gone for years. I am shedding tears for the decades of shared holidays that meant so much to me. From when I was a little girl and got my first Easter basket, and had my first Easter egg hunt, to thinking about when we had them for our children. Of course, I am hoping to enjoy this again with grandchildren but that is in the future and not guaranteed.
While I love our new tradition of getting together with nearby friends who also find themselves without family at this time of year, I also can’t help but remember the dozens of Easter Sunday Masses I’ve attended – the incredible choir, the organ music followed by seeing all of our old friends who were home for the holiday and at church and of course, the magnificent coffee hour that followed the service! Afterwards we would go to the most incredible Easter Sunday brunch at the Sheraton Hotel (long since bought out) and stuff our bellies until we could barely move.
Make Space For Feelings – Whether Sad Or Happy
Having the time and the space to acknowledge that I miss my parents, my brother who lives in another state, and our old traditions is comforting. Giving myself the space to allow myself to feel what I feel is so important. Only by admitting to myself I miss the traditions I had growing up and my parents, and the traditions we had with our kids am I able to let go and embrace today and our wonderful Easter dinner that we will have at our friends house with another 7 couples who are in the same situation.
Take the time to validate your feelings whatever they are. Allow the tears to flow as the memories come through your heart and your mind. Light a candle or say a prayer for those who you miss, take a deep breath and then spend the rest of your day being present with those who surround you now, during your day today. Enjoy all the moments you have in whichever part of these stages you find yourself.