As we move through life with someone we love, we develop small traditions and rituals we associate with that person more than anyone else. But how do you keep those traditions alive once that person has transitioned and is no longer with you?
Over the last few years, I have lost too many close loved ones much too suddenly. First was Norm’s mother Esther. Then his brother Stephen. Then my precious soul sister Anita. And now, our much-loved son Dale. We were not prepared to have them gone. One day they were here with us. The next, we were facing the rest of our lives without them. I have mourned each and every one and having them gone from my life has left huge holes in traditions unique to that person.
Esther was our matriarch. As such, she was back yard barbeques, birthdays and holidays. And still, whenever we gather together as a family, we feel her presence with us, very much in our thoughts and in our hearts. To this day, whenever I eat strawberries, her favorite summer food, I think of Esther.
Stephen was Christmas. Oh, how he loved Christmas! Generous soul that he was, he loved giving gifts most of all and delighted in watching them opened. Oh, he loved receiving gifts, even simple, practical things like socks and underwear, too, but being able to give was so much more important to him. Despite that, we always tried to give him something special – a favorite game or, always, Old Spice Cologne. To this day, when I smell Old Spice, I think of Steve.
And Anita was my confidant, a sympathetic ear, a gentle critic for my writing, wise counsel, a sister of my heart. She was meditation and fragrant flowers, elephants and puppies, gurus and new age, white wine and hot tea. To this day, when I write something new, my heart wants to read it to her. And, to this day, when I see elephants with their trunks raised for good fortune, I know Anita is near.
And then there was Dale. Dale was family breakfasts on the weekend, Nascar and ball caps, beer and Dr. Pepper, crazy, fun toys and rock and roll. We didn’t always see eye to eye, but when we differed, it was always with love and humor. He was a son to be proud of, a man of generous nature and unconditional giving. To this day, when I smell or taste Dr. Pepper, I think of Dale.
So, how am keeping these amazing people alive? Sometimes with simple, silent toasts. Other times, I invite them to join us when we are doing something I know they would have loved. You see, I believe they still live among us. We just cannot see them, but they are here. As spirits, they know when we are including them.
So, to honor them, I eat strawberries for Esther, I give Old Spice to homeless men at Christmas, I include a wine glass on the table for Anita when I am out to dinner with our other soul sister Elaine. And for Dale, we have committed as a family to meet every month for breakfast. It is something we did as a way to stay connected when he was alive. It is a way we will stay connected with each other and with Dale now. And maybe, just maybe, that small connection will help heal our grief. Yesterday was our first breakfast together since we had to say goodbye to him. His death is still far too new and we are all still grieving deeply and so it was a bittersweet morning. But I knew Dale was with us. We invited him there. In the center of the table was a glass of Dr. Pepper. We all took a sip and toasted our sweet Dale. I think he was there and he was smiling.