Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Purpose of Tradition

Tradition is a touchstone; a place of comfort.

When families scatter, traditions plug them back into the familial identity despite distances.

In good times, they are warm comfort. In difficult times they are a place of mooring. In times of grief they can be all that keeps us above water.

It's been tempting to lay our Christmas traditions aside; who, after all, wants to celebrate when not just one loved one passes, but two? With Mom's passing three weeks ago, a numbness settled in, and Christmas would be muted in its glory. Now, with my brother's death just yesterday, numbness becomes a hollowness. A whittling away of who we are. Charli pointed out we have lost 5 loved ones in 1 and half years. Our dog, Lynette's grandfather, my brother-in-law, my mom, my brother... not to mention the loss our dearest friends are suffering...

What, then, for Christmas? It's tempting to feel guilty if we celebrate. But we should, nonetheless, celebrate. Celebrate family, for how long we were given with them and not for their loss. For continuity, because if we don't celebrate with traditions, our loss is felt more keenly. For memory, because things from the past will bump up against the present... perhaps they will be bittersweet, but perhaps not. Perhaps they will be the sweeter.

And finally, for gathering, even when we're apart. My sisters will be doing much the same thing we are. Eating lavishly, making popcorn balls, doing things in a certain order, all the usual season things. And so will we. Sharing an experience even though separated by thousands of miles.

Yes, there will be moments of sorrow. Perhaps the waffles or cinnamon rolls won't taste as sweet, but through our traditions we will stand up to the threat of mortality and profess that through the passing of traditions, there is no mortality.

My family practices will go on even longer than my family name. Is that not immortality?


Sherlock said...

When it comes to material things, this christmas was terrible. That's just the truth. A grumpy relative (who shall remain nameless), an insane dinner, and general un-holiday spiritness all contributed.

But I just have to remind myself that christmas is about a lot more than all of those things.

And you are WAY worse of than me.

Tara said...

I wanted to skip all the holidays this year, too. But I have other family that wanted/needed to keep going. And in the "busyness" of the season, and preparations and serving (always a good way to forget yourself and your own dramas) I found that God helps us (ME) to get through the grief and not around it. I can look back and be amazed that I have survived another moment, another day, another week, and so on with out my mother, and still find meaning, and sometimes even joy in life. And that's something I didn't expect. But, of course, I still miss her like crazy.

Rob said...

I'm no worse off than you, Josiah (unless you mean I'm old, out of shape and relatively poor). Grief is grief, pain is pain, loss is loss.

It's also sneaky. Grief is like an 800 lb. gorilla in ballet shoes. It sleeps a lot, then at the most inopportune times it sneaks up on you and gives you a pounding.

Last night I was happily chatting away with Lynette and caught myself in a "mom-ism." My mother was a character, with specific mannerisms that we've all inherited. Normally, I'm unaware of them. This time I caught it, and the gorilla attacked.

I can think of my mother fondly without getting pounded, it's just the surprise realizations that I'll never see all those things I'm so fond of again that call out the ape. Then I remember that I will, since my sisters share some of those mannerisms.

Over the week I've built up those "fending-off-the-grief" muscles strong enough that the loss of my brother is mostly managable. I think about him more than I have in a long time, and good memories have flooded back, but the gorilla is more like a spastic monkey -- not because Tommy is less, just different. Had he died at another time, out of the corona of grief over Mom, then maybe it would be harder.

Otherwise, life doesn't give you much choice. It makes its demands and you have to get on with it. That's a good thing. I'm reminded of Steven Curtis Chapman's song "Busy Man." Good song.