Monday, January 03, 2011

Family Dinner

One of the more difficult side effects of grief is a feeling of emotional paralysis; an inability to do what you might have done in a normal day before the loss. We spent our first year almost frozen, barely getting through the essentials, our hearts so heavy we couldn't move under the weight of the pain. Our first Christmas seemed like an extension of the funeral with the majority of gifts being framed pictures of Joey passed between family members and friends. We were unable to plan or do much more than just make pictures to hold on to him.

Our second Christmas, just a little over a year ago, left me again at a loss. I had lost my bearings on how to do Christmas. My helpful sister-in-law, Vivian, suggested I host a family dinner and coached me through it step by step. It was wise counsel, as I desperately needed to take some steps to strengthen my connection with life. I was totally surprised to find so much fulfillment in planning and cooking and gathering my family around our table for Christmas dinner.

That night started something. As the holidays passed and moved into January, I hosted a second dinner and this time we also played a table game and had a sharing question. We all loved it, and even the children enjoyed the sense of belonging that comes from being crowded around the table together. I told my family that I wanted to start preparing dinner once a week for all of us if they were willing to show up. It was good for me to give myself a weekly project that forced me to move off the couch and re-engage. I had to plan a menu, shop for it, cook it, set the table, serve it, plan a discussion question and a game, then clean it up...week after week. I loved it. They loved it. A family tradition was born.

Last year, I hosted the official Family Dinner approximately 43 times. Like the U.S. Postal service, neither rain, no snow, nor sleet, nor dark of night kept me from my appointed task. If I was in town, I was cooking. I haven't wearied of cooking for the people I love the most, and it's been comforting for me to have this predictable time with them every week. I sense it's been bonding for all of us. We celebrated whoever's birthday was coming up and had some great table talks. We played and prayed together once a week.
We often raised a toast to Joey and talked about heaven.

Today we packed up the remnants of our third Christmas without him. It doesn't get any easier to have him gone. I shed a great many tears this Christmas and I felt his absence profoundly. In my heart, I longed for just one more touch or conversation. Though his absence is not getting any easier, I find we are getting used to living with the wait for heaven and reunion. We are different people...we are a different family... and we will never be the same. That is the harshness of death. Like a fire in the house, we've all been singed by it and the smell of smoke hangs everywhere around us. But we are surviving our loss, and doing it together, and family dinners have helped.

Monday I prepared my first Family Dinner for 2011. This year I've decided I want to blog about it. Perhaps it will inspire others and I do think most families, bereaved or not would benefit. There are a lot of angles to the whole thing that I would like to share. I would like to document the unfolding story of our family's attempt to process grief... at the table.

So here is Family Dinner #1, 2011.
Note: We were missing a sick granddaughter who stayed home, her mama who stayed home with her, and a sister who went to a birthday party at a restaurant. We also had Sean's visiting parents with us for dinner.
Two of my darlings playing with the IPad while waiting for dinner to be ready.

Dessert is ready. Cherry Cobbler.

A selection of beer for the men.

Bruschetta appetizers with a pitcher of fruity sangria for the ladies.
Healthy garden salad with heirloom tomatoes, red pepper, broccoli, avocado, shaved parmesan and ranch dressing.

Cheesy potato casserole. Way too creamy delicious.

More green. Beans. Not fancy but healthy.

Apple-pepper sauce for the pork chops that are outside being grilled by Joe.

Table set. No paper. I use real plates and cloth napkins. (Teaching the grandchildren table manners is a subtle but important side purpose.)

Ten of us tonight. Discussion question chosen by Drew:
"If you were a leading character in a movie, which movie and character would it be?"
Let's see--Star Wars, Braveheart, Places in the Heart, Bratz Movie, La Traviata, Karate Kid... and a few others that escape me now. Which characters? The leads, of course.
Plus three rounds of Catch Phrase.
The men won.

And a new year begins...Family Dinner 2011.

Luke 24:30

When he was at table with them,

he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them.


karen gerstenberger said...

What a brilliant idea, and a huge gift for the entire family. I wish I could join you.
Much love to you - xoxoxo

Anonymous said...

Grief is a period of time most people think we will get through and it's over. Those experiencing grief realize so very much more. We are trying to do our very best to live with it.
Happy New Year Karen and Joe.
Much love to you two,
P.S. I love your snowy farmhouse and surrounded by family!

Anonymous said...

I loved your new idea and will look forward to each week. You ARE a great cook it looks like and lots of work preparing it. I know how you feel about the whole process of is so rewarding. I feel the same way about quilting thing as well, huuuum perhaps that will be your next venture. Love Sharon

Alveno said...

its so wonderful...have a wonderful family in Jesus christ

Anna Flowergardengirl said...

I always need everything you are saying. I need/want/must do this too. I'm in a rut of writing and frenzy and more frenzy cause my brain won't shut off--

so I am on the puter too much as it's an instant outlet. I do more in one day than a dozen people do in a week.

I get up from the sofa and do everything at break neck speed....makes me feel guilty that when I'm done--I have no idea what I did--on to the next frenzy.

Keeping your heart in mine and never ever forgetting that you are thinking of Joey.