Sunday, December 18, 2016

Things to keep

Note:   Here is last Thursday's blog post. It's late because we adopted a puppy and the only line I had time to write last week was, "there is dog hair on my keyboard."  

A thing to keep, dishes and all, forever.
Every year for almost nineteen years, my sister-in-law and I have hosted Thanksgiving dinner at my house for a crowd of about fifteen family members. 
We're so good at this, we can talk about things not related to Thanksgiving while we're putting Thanksgiving on the table. A couple of years ago, I remarked that it would be even more efficient next year and she said, "I know it will be, if we're here. We'll have to see." 
With their first in college, she explained, the different vacation schedules could limit their chances to be together as a whole family. 
"Thanksgiving could be the only time we're all off. We might head for warm weather, I don't know," she said. 
I respected her reasons, of course, as she would respect mine, but it gave me pause to think we might be in the last hours of a tradition we'd observed for almost two decades.
Because, like first guests who leave a party signal the beginning of its end, when a holiday tradition strays from course once, it makes it more thinkable to do it again. It never happened, we co-hosted Thanksgiving again just last month, but I appreciated this one with new perspective on how long "forever" really is, or should be.
For more than twenty years, my father gathered his adult children every Christmas Eve afternoon for a lunch. Until three years ago, we followed this with a gathering at my house later in the evening. Everybody came. We all had younger kids and after some socializing we had a gift swap for the small ones, and a Yankee swap for the older ones. Babies were passed around. 
We did it forever. 

And it was fun.
Maybe coincidentally, Christmas Eve changed the year my brother died. Attendance at the lunch began to fall off as well. There were people down with the flu. There were people hosting their own gatherings to include in-laws. Maybe it was hard for others, like it was for me, to feel the absence of a person whose presence filled rooms.Whatever the reason, we did it forever and then we didn't.

And it was okay.  
I've realized a few things about traditions now, and the different things they mean to the people who honor them:
First, some traditions don't age and grow rich for some as much as they grow old and obligating. Sometimes, unplanned pull from another direction can open the door to creating  new, and more relevant, "forever" traditions.  
I've also learned that any traditions that seem etched in stone, are really only as "forever" as the time that has passed since the first one.  Kids grow up, people move, babies come and families begin to honor the new rituals they are entitled to create. 
I've seen that it can be very hard for those who have to bow out and disappoint someone else. Often, it's wrenching. Most people who have to decide where to be, want to be everywhere. 
And, especially clear to me is this: 
Some things we keep. Some we can't. But if it's sad to let old traditions go, it's brightening to  remember that new traditions  honor life as we have changed or been changed by  it. Old traditions are about who we were. New ones recognize who we are. 
I visit with my father at his office once a week . Near a shelf displaying his favorite photos of my brother, we sit and talk. Every time, we share a new memory of earlier years, talk about things he observes today, how my kids are and how my writing is going. Our discussions are as meaningful as any we had back in the Yankee swap years. They are easy to cherish, they are things to keep. 
This year, I let the lunch go. For a short time, and because every year could possibly be the last time we can manage it,  my own children will be at our home together on Christmas Eve day. I need all of those hours with them.   
I asked him if we could find other hours for us and he didn't hesitate to say, "Of course we can." I love him for that. 
We'll have a lunch earlier in the week. We've invited the others. I know we'll exchange holiday wishes and memories and as certain as the time that has passed since he was here, my brother will visit in spirit and prompt a new story about something funny or crazy that he did, as well as other good things about earlier years. 
Maybe this will be our new Christmas Eve tradition. 
This year, or next, if you're at the receiving end of a "we can't make it this year" call, particularly if you're an empty-nester and it is your millennial (who still expects a stocking) calling to tell you he's going skiing, or that she's going to Turks and Caicos with her roommate's family, choose your words carefully, because they will sound loud and different in your memory when the new year starts and you're not upset anymore. 
Seize your chance to be the generous one who says, "I've been there, no problem. What should we do instead?" 
There is meaning to what we bring to the lives of those we love and who love us. It may not be on the date you've traditionally set aside for it, but however it stays on the calendar, see it as a thing to keep forever for however long forever is. 
Peace, love and happy holidays.



17 comments:

  1. Such great advice Susan. I'm an empty nester and are so grateful my sons still come home for the holidays. I know when they get married, things will probably change.

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    1. I'm preparing for that too, and just enjoying how much they love being at home when they can be here. With you there.

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  2. Really loving advice. I have been on the side of 'having' to be somewhere. Actually when weather forced us to not be able to travel I was told we ruined Christmas from a SIL. She wasn't about change and thought the guilt would do something? Appreciating the moment and adapting to change is just life!

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    1. Thank you, Haralee. My mother always reminded me of when I "could afford to be generous," and I've seen how much it's appreciated when you don't add your own hurt feelings to someone's distress over "choosing."

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  3. Such good advice. Just because something has always been, doesn't mean it always will be. It's important to let the next generation come up with their own traditions, too.

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    1. I agree. To let them, and to celebrate them when they do. I think it also helps to decide you'll be open before you have to be.

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  4. I love how you put this.
    We met with friends to sing Christmas songs yesterday, and my husband said that it was an instant tradition - it just felt so right for where our family is right now. But like you said, it will only be a tradition for as long as it will be a fit for everyone involved. And I will remember to be kind and loving when it will eventually need to be discontinued.

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    1. It's funny how you can tell the ones that will be "instant," I know what you mean.

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  5. What a beautiful and wise post. As I've gotten older, I appreciate the flexibility of making my own traditions--whether for a single year or many. I like the idea of having a choice to mark the holidays in a way that fits for now.

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    1. I think that's what's so important, to recognize fit and not take it personally when "everyone's" tradition stops working for someone else.

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  6. Great timing for me as I look at a very different Christmas this year. I'm thinking about creating my own tradition just for me.

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    1. I imagine you have the vision and drive to do that, Walker. You celebrate your life and times like few I know of. Good, good, good.

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  7. Although our "traditions" are still in place, I think, this is timely as my only is getting ready to step into adulthood - set with a girlfriend and real job - I know next year it could all be so different.

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    1. I love to read about people who are accepting that. It makes it so much easier for everyone to stay connected, even if at different times and places.

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  8. With my children grown now we are having to share them with in-laws...so every year is different. My husband remarked the other day that we will wake up alone this Christmas for the first time in over 30 years (we celebrated this past weekend with our children) and at first the thought made me sad, then I decided it doesn't matter what the calender says, we had Christmas and it was wonderful. So on Christmas Day we'll figure out some new way to spend the morning...there is excitement in new things.

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    1. OH, how much easier life is when dates don't drive the memories. Thank you, Carol, I really like your attitude.

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  9. I just wanted to thank you susan for sharing your family stories. I struggle at all these times and more with Bill's passing. I am so happy he still lives in all of us always and I hope your family knows how much he was loved by others too. I love reading your blog and how special your brother was to you. I check in often just for this reason. Thank you and happy new year!

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