There has been a lot of talk about the Thanksgiving Holiday this year among folks with whom I have known for years and with some with whom I have become acquainted because of our unfortunate mutual circumstances. Among the latter there is an over-riding sense of dread. Our anticipation of the day has the potential to make us miserable. There is one thing that is certain, the one loved one we expected to always be present for the day will not be there, at least not in body.
For the grieving mother’s, some of whom are expected to help set the tone for the day, busily cooking away in the kitchen while the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade shines from the TV screen we feel we have no energy for such an endeavor. If there are other children and family members we worry that we will “ruin” their day. I have heard some say recently that their family members criticize because the grieving father or mother cannot put aside the grief and behave normally.
We are a culture who prefers our emotional issues to remain sterile. Never mind that over 120,000 people died during the year in accidents alone. Those 120,000 families plus those who have suffered loss from illness and violence are on their own, and are expected to remain a silent minority. We have been told everyone is sorry, we received the card and it is time for you to get over it. Sorrow is in a category all its own. The pain and disability it inflicts is incomprehensible to someone who has not experienced it. Truly those of us who suffer from it would not wish it on anyone either, but we also wish you would not try to “fix us”. Please believe me, we are attempting reconstruction from the broken pieces as quickly as our strength will allow.
As for those of you who are dreading this Thursday along with me, I think it is safe to say, for some of us, it will not be any worse than any other day. It may even surprise you that the dread is worse than the reality. In as much as it is possible, try to build into the schedule of your day times when you can retreat – and use them if necessary. If you don’t need those times then know that they are available when you do. Some are choosing to create a different tradition and some are ignoring the holiday altogether. There is merit to every plan.
My home office is a mess. It always has been. I don’t like to sort papers, and I hate filing. I have never learned or practiced being organized. I have no good excuses.
I realized that my life is a lot like that in places. There are messes I have made in relationships and friendships. Thankfully with my children, my husband and perhaps dumb luck my relationship with them has been a priority – I have tried to keep my end of things as straight as possible.
Even if I had to, I cannot sort out those things right now any more than I can face my messy office. And with time being what it is, unless the other part of the equation wants to join in the sorting process I have no hope of straightening some things out.
The hard people who remain in your life are not magically going to become easy. They are not going to try to sort things out for you. Their expectations of you have not changed and if you have not established good boundaries then they will be trampling unbidden all over the landscape of grief in which you reside.
Counseling is good at helping with these issues. Finding help with external interpersonal issues that cause strain can help you have space to deal with the internal issues of your grief.
The inflammatory process that takes place in your body with disease also seems to take place in your mind with the disease of grief. Things that you thought had been resolved or at least forgotten will resurface, demanding attention when you have no attention left. Hypersensitivity in every physical and emotional aspect occurs, though the world may seem gray or colorless you, like a blind person develop oversensitive radar and react to things you have never even noticed before.
We have been changed and we expect that everyone else has been changed too, becoming more loving or softer or gentler. Not so. If anything our grief has probably stripped away some of the facades we have constructed and we are laid bare. While everyone else remains with their facades in tact. Going through the motions is too much work because we see that that activity is meaningless and in our lives we want to gather up anything and everything that has meaning and store it up to shield us from further pain.
And the process has no time table, no norm, no handbook to guide us through the territory. We check in with each other, we the grieving, to touch base, and make sure we have not strayed too far off the track, because we fear we might loose our minds and wander away into our despair.
I give you permission if someone tells you over this holiday, how you should be behaving, to take off your shoes and hand them to them. Look them sweetly in the face and tell them how much you appreciate them giving you something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving – that they are are willing to walk in our shoes for the day – and then you quietly pad your way to your room. Put on your favorite house-shoes and stretch out on your bed. They have got it covered.
My hope is that none of us has to face that.
My hope is that we find a moment to truly be thankful every day that we have had someone in our life that we loved so much that they, even with their untimely death, changed our life forever. That we as a parent had the most intimate of joys just having them in our lives for this regrettably short time.
Find help if you need it. Ask until someone hears you. Accepting help is not the action of a weak person, it is the action of someone who finally, unfortunately understands that we were never able to do anything alone.
Thanksgiving should be a daily activity anyway, not just relegated to one particular day. I am working on making that the tradition I keep, so that the Thursday in November that our country sets aside is just one more day to embrace the blessings potentially available every day. Peace.