What about the folks that need a break from tradition? What about the families that are grieving? Even in my little town, I know quite a few. One family lost a toddler and welcomed a newborn into their life just weeks later, salve for a wound but there is no balm great enough. One husband lost his wife, she fought valiantly and her laughter was infectious. One family lost their patriarch and they are hurting. Should I tell them that the empty seat at the table may be too much this year?

Too much is okay. To acknowledge what is or is not too much is perfectly acceptable too. My family after losing my brother to cancer, he was a month shy of turning twenty, did it wrong and sometimes we did it right. Many years we played along with tradition and had the carefully planned feasts with our neighbor cousins and I clenched my jaw dreading the blessing and trying not to notice the absence that screamed at me, at all of us. To carry on with status quo is not rewarding after all, even as our pride tells us, to “grin and bare it.” That simple enough mantra overlooks the truth that tender hearts rule the day, particularly holidays.

Some years we got it right. I remember the Christmas we bought our tree on Christmas Eve, just me and my dad, and we marveled at its’ $10 price tag; it was over ten feet. I don’t remember much else. Did it have lights? Did we decorate it? Who, other than my big brother, would have helped my dad get it in the house? Another year at Thanksgiving, we sat at the table barefooted and in bathing suits. That year we had decided the hot tub was beckoning and nearly my whole family squeezed in, minus my mother, though I remember her smile.

The smile of a mother grieving isn’t taken lightly and it reflects her truth and our own. I remember that is what I craved most of all. We were grieving and melting in pain and to choose joy on those special days is nearly impossible, the smiles always riding with tears. I wish someone would have told me to cry and weep. I wish they had told me not to pretend that our life had not been cataclysmically altered and that traditions can obliterate broken hearts.

Webster’s defines tradition as an inherited or established way of thinking, feeling, or doing. Thinking, feeling, OR doing. This year, acknowledge that you are thinking and feeling hurt, so do it differently. Don’t be valiant in your emotions and just try to survive the minutes and hours. It’s not worth it, I tell you. The little sister remembers so little from the traditions where we were all clinging to the old, but she remembers the $10 tree and the wet dining room chairs and she smiles then. Tradition, for me, is largely a way of thinking and I like to think it simply means being with the people you adore and missing them too.

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