Parenting with a Pastor: Grief and Grandma’s Cookies
There have long been religious observances of the solstice. In the Northern Hemisphere, we celebrate the winter solstice, the longest night, on December 21st. Recently, churches have used this time to hold services which celebrate the longest night of the year by having a Longest Night service, or a Blue Christmas service. These services center around grief, and acknowledge that not all feelings at Christmas are represented in the themes of Advent: Joy, Peace, Love and Hope. Today’s blog post, on the longest night of the year, is about those feelings.
You might ask yourself what chocolate chip cookies have to do with grief. Well they have about as much to do with grief as line dried t-shirts, hammers, and old spice. For me this year, they have everything to do with grief.
My grandparents both died last year. They died two weeks apart, beginning with my grandpa in the middle of December. Officially they didn't die from Covid, but now I'll always wonder if it played a part and we just didn't know what to name it. Their health went down fast about 6 months before. They went from fairly healthy and active seniors to two people I didn't recognize in a nursing home in the blink of an eye. You see my grandparents didn't sit down much. My grandma was always cleaning or cooking and my grandpa was always outside in the shop. He might have started spending more time on the golf course as he got older, but I will always associate my grandparents with activity and work. Seeing them in the nursing home, sick and so much less than they were, was heartbreaking. It wasn't that they were not longer active. It's that they seem to have deflated in front of our eyes. See my grandpa was a tall man, a big man and even though my grandma was tiny she always felt like a huge presence in their home. Losing them so close together was something I'm still processing. Maybe I'll slowly process it for the rest of my life because that's how grief goes. It doesn't come with a timeline and end by a due date. It shows up in waves and in the most unexpected moments.
It's Christmas time, and in our house I've tried really hard to keep a hustle and bustle going so my kids don't feel a lack of all the things they can't do. We've made a ton of cookies (mostly for other people, but we've managed to sneak eat plenty too). When I got out my Great-Grandma Bedke's chocolate chip cookie recipe a new wave rose and hit me square on. See this was a cookie recipe that was a staple in my grandma's house. It was a strange day when any of us grandkids (or any of the neighborhood kids) couldn’t find a chocolate chip cookie in my grandma’s cookie jars. I think it was one of the first things I learned to bake. I know the recipe by heart now and even though I keep the card I don't really need it. My mom even has a copy framed in her kitchen. My sister got it for her several Christmases ago and now it's all the more precious.
I stood in the kitchen with my kids scooping that familiar cookie dough onto the sheets. I knew just how much butter to use, and I knew exactly how they'd taste coming out of the oven. I knew that even though they looked a little underdone they were best that way because they'd be soft and squishy for days. I missed my grandma so much in that moment that I physically felt the lack of her. We're never been as close as perhaps I wanted to be, but she left an imprint on my life that will be here always and I miss her terribly. Every time I see a rose, watch Bob Ross, or pick up a romance novel I will miss her terribly.
My grandpa is where the hammer, Old Spice, and line dried shirts come in. The Old Spice and the line dried shirts were the way he smelled. Along with baking, I learned how to use a hammer from a young age at my grandparents home. We used to go out into my grandpa’s shop and he’d let us nail boards together, and smell the lovely wood shavings. My grandparents taught me some of the most useful things I know. It was while I was taking my daughter's crib apart a couple of weeks ago that I felt my grandpa's presence. I'm not the most handy person, but I always have known how to use basic tools and how to figure it out when it comes to taking things apart and putting them together. I've never had to wait for a man to come home and assemble the furniture. My grandpa gifted me with a knowledge to do it myself. I miss him terribly too.
These are the things that I’ll carry with me into tonight’s Longest Night Service. It isn't the most fun part of Christmas, but not every part of Christmas has to be fun. It’s the people in our lives that make Christmas special, and this year more than any other we will be grieving the separation from those we love. I’ll share this grief with Geoff and our kids, because grieving together is just as important as celebrating together.
The hurt is precious though. The hurt means that those we love matter. Tonight we celebrate the Longest Night, and we do so because grief should be celebrated in its own way. For me, baking those cookies and using tools are celebrations, and right now those celebrations hurt. And maybe you'll hurt tonight because you are physically alone, or because you are emotionally isolated. Or maybe you’ll hurt because you lost both of your parents and that hurts no matter how old you are. Whatever you're hurting from tonight, I hope you share that space with us, or with someone, or with God. The waves will come, but you don't have to ride them alone.