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Holidays: Empty Seats

Holidays bear the same weight of someone’s death as the day they died. The seasons approach fast, and as symbols of Christmas and Thanksgiving linger, so do the warmth of loved ones and the coldness that grips us from them being gone.

Their lives weigh on the moods in rooms at family gatherings. It’s hard not to miss the people that made themselves unforgettable. And we miss them the most in the moments they made memorable– like when a joke is needed or witty commentary to fill voids of silence.

God is uniquely active at this time of year when no gift wrapping can repair broken hearts, and downcast souls pass through one another as we brush shoulders with those we share a home. He kneels near the side of dinner and spades tables, checking and performing maintenance on hearts ready to crash out. But we sit with this pain as we smile and toast around empty seats. We carry it on our full plates and find it at the bottom of wine glasses.

Beneath every laugh and greeting, stuck in our throats is “I miss so-and-so,” and we don’t want to be the ones to say it first, but our countenances don’t hold the burden of grief well. Uttering a name or memory might invite tears and lament. But grief needs no invitation because it is always there, begging to be dealt with.

As recently as 2020, life released its hold on many people we love and celebrate. Some, after having lived long lives and finished their races, others whose paths were left with footprints and untrodden trails. Iconic and quintessential NBA star Kobe Bryant died late in January. Politician and Civil Rights activist John Lewis transitioned that summer.

Bell Hooks, the pathbreaking scholar, leader, and beacon of wisdom, knew love and grief well. Her pivotal work from 2000, “All About Love,” reminds us, “love knows no shame. To be loving is to be open to grief, to be touched by sorrow, even sorrow that is unending. The way we grieve is informed by whether we know love.” Hooks passed away at age 69 in December 2021, and her words will live well on the pages they rested.

Jhanae died in June 2020, and, truthfully, I have difficulty explaining her story to others without the dull sting of survivor's guilt because I was there when it happened– because it happened to me, too. We went through it together, and although my body is painted with new scars and ailments, I am the one who’s here. But there’s a sweet voice missing in the narration of this tale. As a result, I’m not likely to be around her family now without feeling as though I am a drifter, floating, soon to fade into a bygone.

On Holidays, for those who’ve experienced loss, we sometimes move through spaces feeling unattached to everything because those gone might have been the bridge. But grief is done best in community, with people who will share in the love and regret with you.

This year, let us all grieve properly. Fill empty seats with love and celebration for those who aren’t there to occupy them. Enjoy who is in front of us to experience every plate and red Solo cup.

I pray when I die, people will grieve me, intentionally. The pain of death will subsist, hinder our walk, and choke us of our capacities to love. We will wallow in distress without grief, without God, who ultimately holds every life in His hand. Happy holidays, and grieve well.

Told by: Kwon

About: Kwon "24" Hosey. Overbearingly black. Storyteller. Stuck reading the writing on the cocoon's walls.

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