By Dwight Douglass, LCSW
During a spouse loss group many years ago, a conversation about upcoming holidays was taking place. One of the group members shared that her six adult children and dozen grandchildren were all at a loss of how to celebrate and honor their recently deceased father/grandfather on what would be their first Father’s Day without him being present. She shared some of the pain she was feeling for them in addition to her own grief and was unsure how to ease their struggle.
As it had been several months since her husband’s death, she was starting to go through his things in the house that were less painful. Thus, she began with the kitchen junk drawer. “Now you have to understand,” she said, “my husband was a MacGyver of sorts, and had declared it a law in the house that bread ties were never to be thrown away as you can use them for other things. I don’t remember that he ever used one of those ties other than a couple of times, but nonetheless, that was the law of the land.” She shared how she emptied a drawer full of these colorful bread ties and dumped them all over the kitchen counter.
Next, she went into the produce bin where he had decreed various-sized batteries would be stored for emergency operations during mostly hurricane season and a few other power outage events. She added that they had followed a Florida-debated myth that batteries last longer in the refrigerator, so she proclaimed that she never was able to keep vegetables or fruit in her produce bins. When they got a larger refrigerator, she rejoiced that she would be able to use one of the two bins, but sadly more batteries were stored. She dumped dozens and dozens of batteries on the counter, and they joined the bread ties.
Finally, she retrieved a drawer from his home office desk and emptied hundreds of paper clips upon the kitchen counter, and they began to intermingle with the bread ties and batteries. As she gazed over the collection, she knew she couldn’t throw them away as that would be too difficult and he might come back and haunt her. It would be seen as an act of rebellion. So she looked at the items and then smiled a Cheshire Cat smile and went into her own kitchen drawers and found the sandwich baggies. She began to fill up a dozen or so bags of evenly divided bread ties, batteries and paper clips.
What this group member, mom and wife had realized at that moment was how to help her family navigate how to honor their first Father’s Day by gifting them the very items that were touchstones, idiosyncrasies and funny memories that would help connect them to their father. Instead of being able to gift their father/grandfather, she gifted them, and a new tradition or memory was begun while reflecting on past ones.
The following week, group members were also gifted with smaller snack-size baggies full of her husband’s treasures and a new perspective on how to cope with holidays and precious memories and traditions.
May you create a new memory while remembering past ones and integrate sweet traditions that allow those who touched our lives to remain alive in our hearts, minds and souls.