A New Year Without Loved Ones

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New Year’s Eve always makes me think of my Maw Maw. Even though she passed away three years ago, I still haven’t found a way to separate the idea of ringing in a new year from the memory of her in the kitchen, hiding a dime in the pot of black-eyed peas. I spent many December 31sts at her table, but if memory serves me, I never once got the coveted “lucky dime” on my plate.

Obviously, I don’t really care about finding 10 cents in my food. However, I do very much care about not getting to spend a memorable holiday with a relative I loved very much—one who was a formative figure in all of my annual memories.

And I would bet I’m not alone here. I would venture to guess that most people experience some element of grief over being separated from loved ones during the holidays. Some like me, whose loved one left the earth in a natural way and at an appropriate age. Others who feel the cruel absence caused by a tragic accident or unexpected illness. And probably all of us find ourselves far removed from one or more living relatives that we are missing terribly.

I know there are tangible ways to honor deceased loved ones during the holiday season like lighting candles in their memory, cooking their famous recipes, or otherwise carrying on specific traditions that the person once established. I can’t say that I practice any such act of remembrance in an intentional way, but I do carry my Maw Maw (and Paw Paw)’s memory in my heart particularly often this time of year. Lately, though, I’ve been wondering if there might be an even better way to honor the legacy of loved ones?

And it’s occurred to me that the greatest way to honor the memory of my grandparents is to visibly love and actively appreciate the people who are under the same roof as I on New Year’s Eve. For me, that means my husband and children.

Does it honor my Maw Maw more for me to cook black-eyed peas (with a dime hidden in the pot, of course), or for me to respond to my husband with kindness even when I’m stressed out? Do I think she would rather I make peanut butter balls or get down on the floor and play with my children while I still can?

When I look at it like that, it seems so simple. Visible tributes are great, but they will never be able to equal the depth and power of practicing real love with those living around us. Even my sadness can be a sweet gift, both to my deceased grandmother and to those bustling about around me. Allowing ourselves to feel grief is necessary and good, but I don’t want to stop there.

I hope to take what I learned from witnessing my grandma’s life, and actively apply it to make the world a better place, even if only within my own home. Because I know without a doubt in my mind: that is the kind of legacy my Maw Maw would have wanted to leave, and so is the best way for me to honor her now.

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