It wasn’t until I started climbing the side of the mountain that the tears came. I had been perfectly fine and at peace up until that moment. I had made it through the funeral in one piece but here, when it was almost over, I just lost it. Truth be told, I wasn’t really crying about the fact that my husband’s grandmother was gone. I had already come to terms with that.
On that day I was crying because I had a very profound realization. As the heel of my dress shoe got stuck in the sod for a third time, I paused to glance up to see just how much further the burial tent was. I saw the tent set far up the hill above me. I still had a lot of grass to conquer to reach my destination. In that moment, something struck me. From where I was standing, all the way up to the grave was a long row of empty grass surrounded by rows of headstones. My husband’s grandparents purchased this long row of empty grass to serve as burial plots on this mountain land for every member of their tightly knit family. From grandmother to final grandchild. This was not my last sad journey up this mountain. I was walking up an empty hill, over grass reserved as the final resting place for many of the people in my life that I love and care about, including my best friend-my husband.
I don’t typically write about things that are sad because I’m a glass half full kind of gal. However, I think it’s important, especially as the holidays are approaching to realize that you won’t have your family around forever. With that in mind, here are ways to make the most of a family gathering.
1. Seize the Day
Put away your cell phones & tablets. Look people in the eye. Listen to what they have to say. Ask questions about how they are and really mean it. Get out a board game. Pour some coffee. Eat at a big table. Eat at the kid’s table.
Just do something THIS year that creates one happy memory with each person in your family. Then lock that laugh, that inside joke, that moment, that memory of that person away in your mental time jar for forever. These are the reasons that God gave us family. The good, the bad and the annoying, they are still your family.
Two Christmas’s ago I hugged my grandmother’s neck. She held me tight and whispered, “If I don’t see you again here, I’ll see you in Heaven.” I remembering feeling sad at the thought but shrugged it off. She was very healthy and strong. The following October, less than one year later, I was standing in front of her casket saying goodbye. I wish I had played one more game of Rook, talked to her more about her garden or hugged her just a little longer that last visit.
2. Record History
Each year I bring along a small digital camera to family gatherings. I try to stay aware of the conversations happening around me and when I hear a bit of family history being spoken I start recording. Every family has great stories. Stories you could hear over and over again. Record those things.
In my case, my husband’s grandfather will often start telling a story about his childhood and I will record him, without telling him. I don’t want him to change how he tells the story because he knows I’m documenting it. I just let the camera roll, let it absorb all the oral history of our family that I can. I even ask questions to find out more about people I’ve never met.
He won’t be around to tell those stories his way forever. These video’s keep those stories alive for future generations.
I’m not naive to the fact that there are severely broken families out there. Families who get together at holidays but just go through the motions. I’m know there are people in the world who have been hurt, abused, used, stolen from and lied to by family. Probably situations where it takes everything in you to be in the same house with that person. You may find that you avoid going to family gatherings all together because of one or two people and avoid spending time with other family members that you deeply love and care about. That’s no way to live your life.
Today is just as good as any day to forgive. That’s not to say that you should put you or your family in unsafe situations. I’m talking about an internal forgiveness on your part for things that you let get under your skin that now seem silly. Those family rifts, those fights about nothing important and those feelings that got hurt years ago. To not let the thing that happened in your past keep poisoning you, your future and time with family that you do like. It’s not easy, but it is a choice. Take this gathering as a chance to reconcile differences and forgive. Don’t let one or two people spoil the little time you have to spend with your whole family each year. If the other person can’t reconcile, then you move on knowing you did your part to finally make peace.
The truth is, they are just people. Human, problematic, self-centered, flaw filled people. You can rise above all that.
As you go into this holiday season with family, remember that no one in your family is perfect, not even you. Take this time to make things right, invest and spend quality time with people that love you. These are moments in life that you just can’t get back and memories you may never have the chance to claim again.