giving thanks


every year this holiday rolls around and it brings me pause. i look back to previous thanksgivings of my childhood, the meals of epic proportions and i wonder if (and how) i am able to provide this same sense of tradition with my own family. i remember my mother’s feasts: the cranberry sauce, the jello salad, the oyster stuffing, the pies the pies the pies. i look to the children around us and wonder what they will look back on to remember when they are grown.

it’s not uncommon for folks to have a hard time with holidays. it tastes bittersweet, sometimes…these memories. for those who forge ahead without family, present days can be tainted with the memory of the “last” thanksgiving with a loved one. and it’s worth mentioning because i think there are so many of us out there. i absolutely hate being in this place. i wish for a time of reprieve. i wish to go back to a time when loss was not on my mind. i wish for the veil of grief to not cloud my present day. but that’s not possible is it? i’m simply wishing my time away. and that’s a waste of now. accepting this truth is what makes holidays hard. looking to the children and new traditions is what gets me through.

this story comes to mind every year at this time. just before my mother’s diagnosis, it was during thanksgiving that we realized she was no longer able to cook or be unsupervised in her own kitchen. it was 2009 and we all knew something was dreadfully wrong but the endless trail of doctors and tests had not yet brought answers (they would come just before christmas, oh joy.)

it was the autumn of confusion. it was the year of five thanksgivings. the holiday of repetition and forgetfulness and anger and sadness. for, each time my mother opened the fridge and found a frozen turkey in there, she took it out to thaw in the sink. for surely, it must be thanksgiving! in her mind, at that time, every day was sunday. but when she saw the turkey in the fridge, every day became thanksgiving. by the time the real thanksgiving rolled around, we were all sick of turkey. it was our fifth turkey. we were tired of explanations. saddened to our core. and had eaten more stuffing and mashed potatoes than necessary. and we no longer knew why we were going through the motions. what did it matter?

comfort foods, yes. tradition, yes. stubbornness, perhaps.

we laughed about it then, with tears in our eyes because we all knew deep down … the feast of five thanksgivings was going to be the last. no one said that, of course. but we all thought it. it marked a threshold for us. a pivoting point in family and tradition. it marked the time of life where everything simply was not the same. i floundered around a lot at this time. i cried foul play. i screamed at the unfairness. i became bitter at other people’s good fortune. grief ran through me like a heartless villain.

oh, thanksgiving.

i’m thinking of this i suppose because it’s that time of year again. and i can see how far i’ve come. through five years, it has  gotten both easier and harder.  it’s just become the norm. i accept the norm simply because there’s absolutely nothing i can do about it.  i’m thinking of it also, because i’m watching a woman i know go through her first thanksgiving without her mother. i’m watching again as grief robs you of joy and tradition. i’m watching again as the bittersweet bile rises in your throat as you pose the question, “how many of you have lost your mothers? how do you get through it? how are you still standing?” bewildered at the pain of it all. not yet to a place of gratitude. for with some time and space you learn that what loss steals from you, it returns to you in other forms.

bear with me as i’m brought right back to this place of limbo. where my mom is gone but not gone. where she is my mother but not my mother. where turkeys thaw and i laugh just a little bit about that year of five thanksgivings. and i find it necessary to say out loud, that i hold a place in my heart for all of you, all of us, who endure the holidays in this fashion. a little bit happy. a little bit sad.

for all of you, from all of me. with love.