All who suffer loss will face–and contend with–the “firsts”

autumnAnother October is almost over, and I can’t help but to be excited about Halloween coming up in several weeks.  It’s one of my favorite holidays.  There’s something about the fun and fantasy, the candy and candlelight, the storytelling and lure that gets me as giddy as my five-year around this time of year.

I’m giddy, but I’m also saddened because I have a feeling that much of this excitement has to do with my father’s participation in all things Halloween.  As you may recall, my father passed away several months ago; and now I realize that I will be dressing up, a dad myself, to share in this day with my family as he did with us so long ago.

This year, however, I will be unable to tell my dad what the children will be wearing.  I won’t be able to share in his own joy as he shares the day with my nieces and nephews up north.

It hit me several weeks ago: This will be my first Halloween without my father, and it is only the first of many holidays that will unfold the next two months without him.  His birthday is in early November, Thanksgiving shortly thereafter, my mother’s birthday in December, and then Christmas.

All without Dad.  To borrow the words of Nicholas Wolterstorff, who lost his own son in a tragic accident, “The world will be an emptier place” this season.

I now know what it’s like to feel the “firsts” of a person’s first year without a loved one.  Each “first” passes with a sense of routine and joy, but also dread and profound aloneness–there is the first anniversary, birthday, Easter…the first year.

I also know that with the death of a loved one, certain traditions die as well.  Several months ago, when I visited family in New York, we lamented that Daddy won’t be dressing up in a Santa Claus outfit only to give everyone lousy dollar-store trinkets from his worn, pillow-case “santa bag.”

I know what it means when the author of Ecclesiastes wrote that there is a season for everything (3:1): Although some traditions may die, others emerge in their place.

Dad won’t be present for Christmas, and we will cry that we were robbed of the opportunity to call him “cheap” for another year because of those lousy gifts (“Vinny, seriously? A roll of toilet paper?”).  Yet, plans have been made for my brother-in-law to take his place as Santa Claus while my sister provides the dollar trinkets for all to enjoy.

I may not call Dad on Halloween to tell him of the new ghost stories I’ve made up for the kids this year, but I will likely rent a black-and-white Vincent Price movie to watch after the kids go to bed.  That’s the type of movie Dad and I used to watch when I was a boy.

The “firsts” bring with them the ebb and flow of such seasons: “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4).  We just have to go through it, walk through that valley of the shadow of death, feel our feelings, cry, laugh, talk and share, and simply find our way in–and out–of those holidays together.

I won’t be the only one around these parts to go through the “firsts” this year, so the prayer of Ecclesiastes will not be mine to pray alone.  For that, I am grateful, for in the midst of every season, we tread–as All Saints Day will soon remind us–in so great a cloud of witnesses.

Published by Joe LaGuardia

I am a pastor and author in Vero Beach, Florida, and write on issues related to spirituality, faith, politics, and culture.

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