Dinner with Friends

Untethered to tradition, eating Chinese food on Christmas Day with fellow travelers on the grief journey proved far more life-changing than leaving with a to-go box.

Pam Strickland

1/8/20242 min read

It was Christmas. All of us were single. The loss of our spouses had left us untethered to familiar traditions. Celebrating together seemed like the next step in our journey to wholeness after loss.

Simple is what we craved. No five-star restaurant or fancy table settings. No usual Christmas fare of turkey and dressing. New and different was what we desired. So, we sat ourselves down at the back corner booth of a Chinese restaurant.

We talked, laughed, and ordered our favorite dishes. We shared the space with families, couples and friends. Someone sang Christmas carols. There was nothing about this gathering to suggest it was more than friends sharing a meal together. How was I to guess the impact it held for me? My grief changed as I sat at the table. Did others perceive it? Don't think so. Was it Divine? Can't say.

Maybe it was just my hungry heart reaching out to other hungry hearts for something to sustain me. A realization that maybe this is why my heart kept on beating when sadness overtook me, this intimate moment of rejoicing in the midst of mourning. I left the restaurant that evening with more than a to-go box.

I walked out grateful that you really can choose your family - it is more than blood. The ties that bind are not weakened by the including of others. Grief has somehow enlarged my heart and the need to fill the empty space is pressing and insistent.

I left knowing that I can carry grief and joy at the same time - all mixed up together. They will both share space in my heart, each taking its turn to be expressed but neither being overpowered by the other.

I departed humbled by the wonder of the life I have been given. The longing for the life I dreamed of is quieted. This is me now? This is the life I live!

But more than these - I walked away overwhelmed by the awareness that not once during our dinner did my thoughts drift to how much better it could have been if THAT person had been there. In that moment, I realized these people are enough.

They are enough to fill the void death has left behind.

They are enough to show me a new kind of togetherness - one that honors past relationships but brings an intimacy that is built on a shared life-shattering event.

Giving myself permission to find contentment and peace in this fellowship of friends has put me on a new path forward - a grief less fearful and full of hope. That next step forward will come easier.

It all started when I stepped out of my comfort zone, broke with tradition, and found family and togetherness in a Chinese restaurant on Christmas Day. -Pammy