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Papa’s Stocking

November 19, 2011

I attended a Hospice Memorial service just before Thanksgiving several years ago.  The room was filled with families and friends who had experienced the death of someone they loved during the past year.  It was a time of remembering.  And a time to focus on the journey of living through grief.

Loss is one of the few experiences besides our birth that is universal.  We would be hard pressed to find a single person in a crowd, who has not had some personal contact with grief.  How is it then that grief can feel so solitary?  Perhaps that mixture of solitary and universal is why talking about our grief brings both pain and relief.  But talking about loss and the grief that follows is important if we are to weave both joy and sorrow into our own rich fabric.

I don’t remember the name of the speaker at that Hospice service, but I remember the personal story he told about finding joy in the midst of grief.   After his wife’s mother passed away, his father in law came to live in their home.  He quickly became an integral part of their daily lives.  And then last year, in the fall, Papa had died.  The man, his wife, and two daughters were left with the empty spaces that Papa had once filled.  As Christmas drew near, the depth of their loss was magnified.  Christmas traditions that had been a source of joy, were now a reminder of Papa’s absence.  This was especially true when it was time to hang their Christmas stockings.  There was Papa’s stocking, empty.  Just like his chair at the table.  Just like the hole left in their hearts.

They began to talk about the pain of Papa’s absence, and the dilemma of how to have Christmas without him.  A new tradition, a ritual of healing, was born out of that conversation.  Papa’s stocking would be hung in its place on the mantel, with slips of paper near by.  In the days leading up to Christmas morning, family members wrote their thoughts, memories, feelings about Papa and dropped them in his stocking.  On Christmas morning after presents had been opened, and their own stockings emptied, they read the notes from Papa’s stocking. There were tears, and laughter, and connection with each other and with Papa on that Christmas morning.

I don’t know if they hung Papa’s stocking beyond that first year he was gone.  But I do know their Christmas story is a wonderful example of partnering with grief to create a moment of celebration that will last a lifetime. They had discovered that although Papa was gone, he was not lost to them.  Sometimes healing comes not from avoiding the painful moment, but from stepping into it to create a new meaning.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. November 19, 2011 11:46 pm

    What a lovely idea – glad to read this as I am coming up to my first christmas without my dad around.

    • November 20, 2011 2:01 pm

      I thought it was too. It was such a nice way to realize they could still have their loved one present during their holiday. I’m approaching my second Christmas without my dad. I can relate to a lot of what you have written about your relationship with your dad. I also cherish the days spent with mine leading up to his death. Thanks again for your comments and your posts.

  2. November 25, 2011 9:10 pm

    Great article. I’ve enjoyed this contribution. Its nice to see every questions answered in a blog post like this. I will add this post on my blog and link to it. Thanks for a clear informative post, I’ve learned a lot. I hope to see videos though as I can be A.D.D and reading articles is not my favorite thing to do online. So what I do sometimes is just print the whole thing and read offline.
    Heart Healthy Recipes

    • February 1, 2012 7:53 am

      I have been going back through GrowthLines blog posts to make sure I haven’t miss responding to people’s comments. And, much to my dismay, I have indeed missed some. Thank you for reading Papa’s Stocking and taking the time to comment. Printing and reading offline is a great idea. Someday I might venture into adding video where fitting, but I’m still on the learning curve of the blogging world. Thanks again for your comments. I will be stopping by to check out your Heart Healthy Recipes!

  3. November 30, 2011 7:32 am

    What a great idea!

  4. December 1, 2011 3:05 pm

    Thank you for the Article, its my second time visiting your blog and must say it is very informative hope to check back soon.

    • February 1, 2012 8:01 am

      I apologize for not responding to you at the time you wrote. I have discovered I missed some comments from past posts and am replying now. I hope in this case “better late than never” is true. Thank you for visiting my blog, and especially for taking the time to write your thoughts.

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