NANA’S HOUSE by Teresa Kindred
The empty chairs…
Every holiday I have at least one meltdown. I know I shouldn’t, but I do. I try to do it in private so no one knows, but there’s no way to hide it from my husband. I lock myself in the bathroom for an hour and come out with red eyes and blowing my nose, so he can tell.
This year I feel especially guilty for “coming apart” on Thanksgiving because God answered our prayers and we have still have my husband Bill with us. I say, “Thank you, Jesus” every day for him, and sometimes I just watch him sleep and count my blessings.
But by the time you get to my age (and for some of you a lot sooner), we have all lost someone we love, and as you know, we are all conscious of the empty chairs at our holiday tables.
My parents and grandparents have been gone for years, and time has dulled the powerful ache their loss created in my heart … but it’s still there. It lurks around the corner, hiding in the shadows and then jumps out and wraps me in its arms like a big, ugly monster. Then it squeezes my heart until the tears start flowing. And in my family, if you have “the tear gene,” sometimes it’s hours before you can get it under control.
Another reason I feel especially guilty (I do “guilty” way too often) is because there are thousands of people around the world who have fresh wounds to the heart, and I hurt for them. My son-in-law lost his father this year, and the first holidays without a loved one are so unbelievably hard. They are in my prayers this month.
Of our five children, I knew from the time our second son was a small child that he would be the one who ventured the furthest from home. Don’t ask me how I knew, because he didn’t grow up reading travel magazines or watching the travel channel. I just sensed it. Mom’s intuition.
He and his wife Jessi couldn’t be here for Thanksgiving, and that was the main reason for my boo-hoo in the bathroom that night. But I’m thankful they are healthy, together and have friends they can celebrate with.
I decided to go ahead and cook the traditional meal (just a scaled down version) and invited a few friends and some family. (Most of our adult children go to their in-laws for Thanksgiving, then we were together later.)
While putting together a casserole, I realized I was about out of mayonnaise. I almost tossed the jar, then realized there was a bit more I could get with a knife. I knew my Grandma Layne was nodding her head in heaven in approval. “Waste not want not.” She never, ever threw anything away.
I poured macaroni casserole in a dish and flashed back to the hundreds of times Mom made it. Every holiday it was on her table. Aunt Ruth may have made it first, but mom baked it thousands of times, and so have I. I haven’t needed to look at the recipe in years. It’s embedded in my brain as deeply as she’s embedded in my heart.
The empty chairs at our table are filled with memories …
They’re memories of those no longer here, and I know without a doubt that they would not approve of my sadness but would want me to remember the laughter. Like when my sister-in-law was serving my dad ice cream and she dumped two huge scoops of vanilla in his lap! The look of surprise on both their faces was priceless.
I hope you have lots of good memories to fill your empty chairs, and I pray for those whose heart wounds are fresh. Don’t feel guilty for shedding tears or having a boo-hoo if you need to; it’s okay to cry. The first year is the worst, and even after that there are those of us who never really “get over” loss. We just learn how to live with it.
Wrap your arms around the loved ones who are with you, and share your feelings and memories. Your absent loved ones would want you to. Happy holidays, friends.
Teresa Kindred is a freelance writer, former teacher, and author of several books, including The Faith-Filled Grandmother. She’s the mom of five grown children and “Nana” to seven precious grandchildren. She and her husband live in Kentucky. Her blog for grandparents is at NanaHood.com.