Holidays can be a difficult time if you’ve recently lost someone. They can be hard even if you lost someone years ago. So many sights, smells, events, and people are around at the holiday’s that remind you of those that aren’t there. This has the effect of making the holidays harder when you’ve lost people. Yet it does not have to be that way. Those memories are cherished, and when a holiday comes around it is a chance to remember all those great times that you had. It is okay to think of them on these days, it is okay to feel sadness at their loss, it is okay to feel sorry they are not there this year. But sadness isn’t always bad, letting yourself feel that loss, especially if you can focus on other good things in your life that are happening now, is a positive way of remembering someone. Feeling bad isn’t in itself a bad thing. Those emotions and feelings are with us all the time regardless of if we recognize them or not, so sometimes it is very important to recognize those feelings and know that it is okay to feel that sense of loss and grief as you move through the holidays. Shutting them out, trying not to remember, or trying to ignore the fact that a person you wish where there is no longer there just makes the hurt stronger over time. Sometimes we need to be able to let those feelings out, and holidays are a strange mix of things that can make for the perfect time to remember in a positive way, even if it hurts at times.
For me there are dishes. Some I loved, some I never was really a fan of, that my grandma and mom used to make for us each year. My grandmother was crazy for the holidays. She loved them, she went all out and made them elegant and picturesque every time. My mom always complained about not wanting to make the holidays elegant, she’d say we were just going to do something simple and easy up until about a week before and then she’d go all out because, deep down, she was crazy for the holidays too. I loved it, too, it seemed like such a big deal that these holidays came around and that we all got to be together and we’d get to eat and laugh and watch movies and all of that. After my grandmother passed my mom took on making of more of the dishes my grandmother made, and she kept that spirit alive. When my mother passed we tried, honestly we really tried, my dad and I, to recreate their dishes but over the next few years we realized we just couldn’t do it. We made our own things, though, we had our own additions to the traditions. And as time as gone on we’ve kept those new traditions alive while still, occasionally, trying to get the old traditions back in there as well.
There was this odd gelatin cranberry ‘salad’ my grandmother, and then mother, used to make each Thanksgiving. It was not quite Jell-o, but it wasn’t not Jell-o either. Some sort of odd less sweet version of it that was made with a few different ingredients and then with frozen cranberries on the inside as it set in a mold. We had given up on it, not less because my father and I didn’t really like it but also because when we tried to make it it never really seemed to come out right. But last Thanksgiving my dad tried again. He dug up the old recipe and put it together and got it on the table right next to the turkey where it always had been before. I still thought it was terrible, but it did taste just like they had used to make. In that moment of tasting it again, in seeing it on the table, it felt as though they were still with us. I dreaded that dish as a kid, they’d make me try it every year and ever year I disliked it more. And as an adult I found that my tastes for it had not changed. Yet seeing it there.Tasting it again. Knowing it was still part of the tradition made it feel as though they were with us and the hurt and loss that came on was quickly supplanted by a sense of thanks to them for instilling such strong memories. For creating such traditions. For making me try something I didn’t like every year just because they thought someday I might like it as much as they liked it. And they did like it, a lot, it was a big deal to them so it became a big deal to everyone else in the family.
It is these little things that bring us back to those we’ve lost. Even thing we may not have been fond of when they were alive are special because they were special to them. And feeling pain at their loss is okay, especially if you can hold that pain next to the positives in your life now because then it becomes a bittersweet pain that is good for your soul. I don’t know that everyone needs to try to recreate dishes they didn’t like that their lost family members did over the holidays, but as far as a way to keep their spirit, their hearts, their memories alive I think it was a great idea and look forward to seeing that terrible gelatin salad next to the turkey again this year.