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In the weeks before Christmas, I have been painfully aware of all the empty place settings at family tables this Christmas. I have been praying for those families. Our church family lost a number of precious people this year, from an 11 year old to those well into their 90s. Working in the church office, I had had contact with each family. Late last week, when I answered the phone and heard the shaky intake of breath at the other end of the line, I knew that someone else was calling with the heartbreaking news. Over the next several minutes of that phone call, I listened to a complete stranger share her grief, her voice raw and catching as she tried to hold in her emotions. I could tell she was still somewhere between numbness and shock, and the stark realization that her Mom was gone.

This woman’s grief caused me to reflect on my own family Christmas dinner, starkly aware of faces missing at our own table. Grandpa passed away two years ago, and both Grandmothers were in nursing care facilities, so there were fewer places to set, but visits still to be made. I was blindsided by the phone call Tuesday evening from Big Guy – my Nana J. had slipped away that afternoon in her sleep. It wasn’t completely unexpected; after all, she would be celebrating her 100th birthday in a few months’ time. Suddenly I was the one who was numb and shaking. I still had to finish the wrapping. I still had to pack our clothes and packages. I still had to go to work in the morning…

And I have done just what she would have done – I have gone into “organizing overload”. I have channeled my inner “Martha” and so, this holiday season has been a blur. We still celebrated Christmas with gifts and too much food. We still made the 6 hour (round trip) car ride to visit my in-laws. My brother and his family still came to my parents and we did it all again. I have allowed little time for tears or reflections, but rather have endured a sadness that lingers around the edges, waiting to be embraced.

Today is her funeral. Saturday night, we spent time as a family just sitting and sharing stories about her. I have tried my best to capture them and will stand and share them with all who gather today. I had no idea how difficult this would be…


Photo courtesy of Curt Fleenor