Grief, sets the table

At Thanksgiving, my oldest son who is a photographer came to visit. He brought from his car bag after bag of which was photography equipment, cameras, lens, film. I asked him if he brought any clothes with him as he lives four hours away and was planning to spend a few days with us. He pointed to a small backpack.

At one point during his stay, he had a few of his photography bags open on the kitchen table and I marveled at all the different sizes of lens that I assumed were just a small portion of his photography cache. I gingerly picked up what I thought to be a zoom lens and marveled at the length and weight of it.

As I began to move my son’s camera equipment so I could set the table for dinner, I wondered about the capability of our own eyes. Even with 20-20 vision, our human eyes do not have the same accommodation to magnify images to see the lovely details and crop out the unwanted subject matter. Our human optical ‘zoom’ lens does not have the physical mechanism as my son’s camera lens. We have instead an emotional lens.

Grief, sets the table

Christmas is a few days away. Whether you are dining alone or with a few close family members, friends or perhaps casting responsible caution to the wind during this ongoing pandemic to seat a large gathering of people, there are many who’s holiday is the beginning of their “year of firsts.”

A missing table setting. An empty chair. A bite of comfort food that has lost its taste.

Grief, sets the table.

Loneliness sits down in the middle of joy’s welcoming table.

In his letter to French scientist Jean-Baptiste Leroy in 1789, Ben Franklin wrote in part, “… but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

If death and taxes are certain then grief is sure to follow both.

While I was contemplating a camera lens at Thanksgiving time, a colleague had just entered her year of firsts with the sudden and unexpected death of her mother from COVID. As I tried to console her without overstepping her grief with my own experience, I was preparing myself for another visit from grief at my Christmas table.

My colleague spoke of becoming an orphan. I spoke of my feeling of abandonment. Whatever the feeling…

Grief, sets the table.

An unsurmountable loss irrespective of the feelings for the one we lose, the future holds “what might have been.”

The loss of my father diminished me. Overwhelmed and unmoored, I tried to come to terms with my grief. I re-evaluated myself and the world in the light of my loss. The attempt to look for meaning was a way to achieve balance amid the instability. Grief led me to maladaptive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

What I needed in my grief was nourishment of support from positive sources. I found few of them. I came from a dysfunctional setting compounded by the suddenness of losing my father three days before Christmas.

the grieving (3)
Whether it is a person, pet, divorce, career, home, or other significant loss…

Grief, sets the table.

It is important to remember that each person setting around the table is experiencing some sort of loss. The chatty Cathy to the silent Simon they are dealing with their loss in their own unique and individual way.

Indian poet and Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore wrote in his poem, “you become an image of what is remembered forever.”

No truer words have been written even more so than death and taxes.

When we call to mind the memories because of the joy or despite their content, we also honor them and ourselves by living a healthy and fulfilled life.

Grief, sets the table.

When we look at our loss through our individual emotional lens, we can either zoom in to see the lovelier details or zoom out to crop out the unwanted subject matter. And the difference between death and taxes is that we can choose to pay the taxes or not.

My recommendation: pay the taxes. Allow grief to drip all the snot out of your head. Allow it to swell up your eyes from shedding all the tears until you fall into a deep sleep for days.

Grief, sets the table.

Then you will be able to move on until the next time when grief sets the table whether it is in your year of firsts or in your 31st year.

This holiday season when you are at the holiday table serve an extra helping of love, grace, and acceptance because you never know what loss someone at the table may be enduring. Grief sets the table for us all.

high cost of loving

In Closing,

If you are experiencing overwhelming grief and finding it difficult to finding the harmony in mind, body, and spirit, I urge you to find support through grief counseling – online, in person therapy, or a local grief support group.

Signs to look for:
1. Suicidal thoughts
2. Symptoms of distress – loss of appetite, insomnia, increased instability and anger or panic attacks
3. Struggling with daily self-care and everyday tasks
4. Denial of the loss
5. Avoidance of familiar places, situations, or social interaction
6. Substance abuse
7. Unexplained illnesses
8. Self-blame for the loss; guilt
9. Plagued with intrusive thoughts or reliving the loss
10. Lack of family or friend support system; or they cannot sustain the length of time of your grief

May you find peace and harmony this holiday season,

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In memory of my father, LeRoy C. Prielipp, 5/5/38 – 12/22/90

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