Absent Friends at Christmas
It's just over a year since my father-in-law died. One of three brothers, he lived to the ripe old age of 88, the last few years of which were spent living in our home. Because he died in November, last Christmas became something of a blur. We somehow blundered our way through, still exhausted from the days and nights of caregiving required during the final weeks of his life. This year, things are more settled, but like many families who have lost a loved one, we find that Christmas is a time that stirs memories.
I recently came across a blog post by Nancy Berns, Ph.D., who articulates the often bitter-sweet aspects of the holiday season for people who have lost a loved one. What she describes as the "empty chair at the table," is a reminder that Christmas isn't all celebration for many people. Christmas is also a time loaded with memories and emotions, so whilst we might have an enjoyable time, it doesn't mean we can, or should, switch off the emotions that come with loss.
Anyway, back to Dr. Berns. The central issue in this particular blog is closure. The case is made that the expectation of closure is something of a false promise. Closure isn't a natural state, it's a concept, and it's one that doesn't necessarily fit very well with how people actually feel. I suppose we can read too much into what is meant by the term closure. I don't think it means drawing a line under something to the extent we erase it from memory. I suspect the inference is more to do with getting things into perspective so they don't dominate and distort our lives.
We have a very nice video of the family sitting around the Christmas table. My father-in-law sits at the head, reminiscing about his time as a Spitfire pilot and comparing its attributes to the Mustang, which incidentally he insists was vastly superior. At a certain point he stops, his expression becomes reflective, and he raises a glass to offer up a toast, "to absent friends." I'd like to think it's a tradition we'll continue. It's a reminder, as Dr. Berns says, that it's possible to hold joy and grief together. We adjust our lives to circumstances as they arise.
If, like me, you'll sense the empty chair at the table this Christmas, why not raise a glass to toast absent friends too?