Corn chips, raisins, and black socks

By Darryl Jefferson, Levine & Dickson Hospice House – Huntersville Chaplain

black socksThe Advent season has always been my favorite time of year, especially when I was growing up near Houston.  The weather wasn’t hot, football was everywhere, and because we lived close to both my parent’s families, my brother and I got to see everyone and receive our holiday presents all in one day.

Visits to my maternal great-grandmother were always interesting.  For as long as I could remember, the present she gave me and my brother was the same every year: a gift-wrapped shoe box with corn chips, raisins, and black dress socks in it.  It even seemed like the wrapping paper color was the same every year.  We knew what we were getting, so our level of excitement never changed.  We always said “thank you” when she gave us the boxes, but we really wanted to yell out “not again!”  But our parents were usually within arm’s reach so we did not have the luxury to truly express ourselves.

In the spring of 1986, my great-grandmother died in her sleep.  Our family went through the entire grief/funeral/graveside process.  But it wasn’t until a day in late December that year that it truly hit me.  While we were doing our family visits, my parents decided to drive by my great-grandmother’s house just to take a look at it.  I could hear something deep within me say, “Aren’t we going to stop? … Why not? … Oh, she isn’t there … If she isn’t there, then how are we going to get our presents? … No presents??? … No shoe box, no corn chips, no raisins, no dress socks? … My great-grandmother is gone.”

I don’t remember if I cried, but I do remember it being a hard reality to face.  My parents, other family members, and friends were there to help when the days got rough.  I also tried to recapture the days when my great-grandmother gave me that gift-wrapped box by buying those items for myself.  My attempts were unsuccessful.  For some reason, the corn chips and raisins didn’t taste the way they did when they were gifts from her.  And the black dress socks I bought always seemed to get a hole in them.  The socks she gave me never got a hole.

As I got older, I learned to look at the gifts from my great-grandmother as more than just objects, and to discover the meaning in them.  It’s equivalent to J. William Worden’s fourth stage of grief — “to relocate the person in your life and appropriately memorialize that person.”  It doesn’t mean I have forgotten her; it means that I put her in the highest regard and see how she has positively affected my life.

Here’s how I see it:
The corn chips symbolize sustenance; corn was used to help the early Americans sustain the cold winters. What gives me sustenance in life?

Raisins symbolize preservation; which means to keep alive or safe. What do I want to preserve in my life?

The black socks … well, I always wear black dress socks when I want to look my best, so the socks symbolize presentation and putting my best foot forward!

Who knew so many lessons could come from one shoe box?

Explore posts in the same categories: awareness, end of life, grief, hospice, Levine & Dickson Hospice House, spiritual care

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