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How Grief is Bringing My Family Closer

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Last year, one of my cousins searched for an open seat after piling her plate with Christmas lunch. Scanning the room, she couldn’t find a place. Every seat was filled.

But this year, there’s an empty seat at the table.

After a long-fought battle with alcoholism, my Uncle Tim passed away this past May. His organs failed, and though he battled through his last days, he lost the fight.

My family travels to Ohio every Christmas to spend time with my mother’s parents and brothers. Having over 20 people in a small house, it’s often hard to find a place to sit unless you rush to the counter and fill your plate before anyone else.

But this year, there’s an empty seat at the table.

Dealing with loss around the holidays is difficult. I often think about my uncle, my grandma, my grandpa and other people who have passed away. There’s a void that can’t be filled when you lose someone close to you. One less plate, one less seat, one less story.

Spend time with your loved ones during the holiday season. Play one more game. Listen to one more story. Give one more gift. You never know when the last time you will see your loved ones is.

While traveling home from my uncle’s funeral in Ohio, we received a call saying my grandpa back home was found unconscious on his bedroom floor. The paramedics didn’t know if he was on the floor for minutes, for hours or for days. My father turned around from the front seat and said, “Guys, I think Grandpa died.”

I immediately felt guilty. Guilty I wasn’t there. Guilty I didn’t spend more time with him.  Guilty that I should’ve done more.

My grandpa had a stroke, the second in his life, and miraculously he survived. He is now living at Park Place. Ever since that scare, I visit him as often as I can. I hug him more. I sit next to him while he eats dinner more. I buy him milkshakes more. I watch Jeopardy and Ellen with him more. I spend more time with him because I don’t know when I will see him for the last time.

Sometimes, I would rather read a book or text my friends, but while I am with my loved ones, I try to spend more time with them. I show them that they matter, share my love for them and give them my attention.

I admit that I am selfish with my time. I’d often rather tend to my own wants rather than those of other people, but I’m challenging myself to turn this around. I plan to set myself aside and seek out other people, looking for ways I can bring joy to others during the holidays.

I’ll bake with my aunt if she wants to make cookies.  I’ll play hide and seek with my younger cousins who yearn for my attention. I’ll tell my grandpa about how school is going this year. I’ll take extra moments in this season to spread love to the people I care about.

There will be an empty seat at my family’s table this year, but I plan to fill that seat with new memories and lasting stories with my loved ones.

Getty image by yaom

Originally published: February 4, 2020
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