PUBLISHED: 2:45 PM on Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Holiday traditions can help heal our grief

I love this time of year, when the holiday season enriches our spirits with warmth born of family traditions.

But I'll be honest with you. Even though I enjoy the celebrations, it can be really tough for me. Because among the clamor of seasonal preparations, the sound I long to hear most is one that strangely, yet quietly, echoes above all others: My dad's voice.

Perhaps you too have lost a loved one and find yourself listening longingly for a voice which is no more. And like me, I know that you too experience erratic waves of ache that come and go at the oddest of times.

I can walk down a grocery aisle and see a handsome, dignified-looking silver-haired man; and for just an instant, I think it's him. My eyes immediately well up with tears.

There are other times that are especially hard.

Like when, after rounding up all the extra chairs in the house, we all scoot in closely around our holiday dinner table and look around at faces appearing a little older than last year. But Dad's voice, along with his prayer offered with a heart full of gratitude, remain absent.

I long to watch Dad observe how much the kids have grown and to hear him proudly declare, "They sure are growing up."

But his voice is absent.

Or I'll hear Bing Crosby sing "I heard the bells on Christmas Day" and know the exact verse that prompted Dad to say, "This is my favorite part."

Yet his voice is absent.

But this year, I plan to hear his voice once again, in newfound ways: Like when I'll hold my newest granddaughter or slip another piece of fudge to her older sister when her parents aren't looking. I'll admire our children, while holding my husband's hand at our candlelit holiday dinner. And like the song from Fiddler on the Roof, I'll whisper, "I don't remember growing older; when did they?"

For those of us who grieve, I believe that honoring holiday traditions is a way of embracing the lives of those we miss. It's a part of how we keep them alive in our hearts. That's how they'd want it, don't you think?

Then, if we listen among the clamor of seasonal preparations, we'll hear a sound which rings brighter than any other: Their voices. And it's a sound that will remain with us always.

This year, may you and I hear their voices; for keeping holiday traditions alive can truly help heal our grief.

Judy Halone is a member of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association and the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.