My daughters recently turned 14 and 15, and my family and I will mark Independence Day in a couple of weeks as we have every year since they were one and two: at my husband’s parents’ home.
It’s a tradition we started after we’d determined that the celebration in our hometown was too big and not sufficiently family-friendly. Yet we wanted to mark our country’s birthday somehow, so my in-laws suggested we join them. And we had such a good time that we readily decided to make the trip an annual event.
We generally spend one or two overnights and enjoy low-key but fun activities during the day. We frequented a nearby playground during the first few years, and one year we visited an observation tower with an amazing marsh view. Lately, the girls have enjoyed the local aquatic center as well as helping my mother-in-law with the cooking and baking. And on the evening of the fourth, we always go to the same beautiful amphitheater-style park in a nearby town for an impressive concert and fireworks display, an event made extra-special for years because my father-in-law was the band’s bass drummer.
The tradition changed five years ago, though, when, after 45 years of dedicated service, Dad reluctantly retired from the band. Dictated by health concerns rather than an actual desire to hang up his drumsticks, the decision was understandably hard. He did enjoy attending as a spectator that first year, but his health continued to decline and he was never again able to join us in the park.
And now this year’s visit will be different again because he passed away last fall.
As the entire family has walked through a series of “firsts” without him for several months now, we’ll manage this one, too. I expect we’ll experience a fair amount of awkward melancholy and even some tears – most especially when the band launches into his favorite song, Invincible Fidelity, which they also played at his funeral. But we’ll smile as we remember him doing crossword puzzles at the breakfast table, telling funny stories about his childhood, and swinging his bass drum mallet at the back of the bandstand.
As you plan summer events this year, maybe you, too, are in a season of change. Maybe you’ve lost a loved one. Or perhaps some old traditions are morphing – or even fading away. I encourage you to accept the inevitable sadness that accompanies such circumstances, because denying it only prolongs grief. But purpose as well to avoid getting stuck in bitterness and angst.
My father-in-law loved seeing us come through the door for our Independence Day visit, and I know he’d want us to continue the tradition even though it won’t be quite the same. I’ll encourage my mother-in-law, husband, and children to honor the joy our tradition brought him by adding new experiences and memories to the occasion.
You can do that, too.