Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. The history behind Thanksgiving is one of those “history written by the victors” moments. Last night, we hosted my son’s cross country team’s end of season banquet. One of the discussions that caught my attention was when a mom shared that she had said to her hairdresser, “Who doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving?” Her hairdresser’s response, “My family.” It turns out she is half Ojibwe and sees Thanksgiving as a symbol of betrayal. An interesting take…but not the thought behind today’s post.
Nine years ago, Thanksgiving week was when we discovered that my mom had terminal cancer. She died by the following June. I do not even remember the first Thanksgiving without her although I am sure that we spent the time in Grand Forks with that side of the family. In recent years, with my husband’s dad’s health in decline, we have spent most Thanksgivings with his family. Thanksgiving is hard. Holidays are hard.
When a loved one is no longer a part of our lives, holidays can be hard. Traditions that we once had are no longer. Family dynamics change as the family attempts to negotiate that missing person’s spot or fill the gap that the loss leaves. And if new family members enter the family system (remarriage, etc), where do the new persons fit into the traditions that we once had? Or – *gasp* – if that new person wants to impose his or her family traditions onto our family tradition, how does that make us feel? That seems to be an incredibly long run-on sentence, but I honestly do not care. When we write about emotional things, they just tumble out of our heads like that. The fact that I know that it might be a run-on sentence should prove to the world that I can use it artistically in this instance in order to illustrate something.
Although we feel these losses in our every day lives, the holidays tend to have heightened emotions. If the one who always read the Christmas story to the children is no longer there to read the story, who will read the story? We feel this loss deeply each time this attempt to have our traditions occurs. I do not remember if I put up a tree for that first Christmas after my mom died; she liked putting up the tree. If the one who cooked the turkey is no longer there to cook the turkey, how can we even eat turkey anymore? Who will cook the turkey the way he cooked the turkey? Who will make that special stuffing that only she could make?
It seems only natural that this happens to us. Death is an unkind and unwelcome visitor in our lives. I have thought a lot about this for the past nine years (I started thinking about my mom’s death before it actually happened…I’m a planner…what was I going to do without her?). I used to think that losing someone at an early age (I was only 29 years old when my mom died) was worse than losing someone at an older age. However, as I have walked through the passing of parents with others following my own loss, I have come to realize that it just does not matter how old we are when a parent passes away. There is never a good time to lose someone – anyone – a parent, a spouse, a child, another family member, or a friend. It just does not matter. Those people mean something to us, and we do not want to live life without them. It does not matter if we know about their death or if they die suddenly. Loss is loss, and loss hurts.
Holidays amplify the hurt that loss inflicts upon us. What seems almost manageable in our every day lives can turn into something insurmountable because of the holidays. The pain seems nearly gone, and then a holiday arrives. Plans are different than they were…and it does not even matter if what we did for those holidays drove us nuts! It is not the same; we cannot do it “that way” ever again because “that person” is not with us anymore. And that hurts. There really is no way around it; we just have to go through it. It is like attempting to cross a river without a bridge; we have to go through the river. Usually, the river will not consume us. We will come out on the other side a little wet (maybe a lot wet), but we will come out of the river after having gone through it. Likewise, with the feelings of loss, we just have to go through them. We have to take five minutes and have a little cry in the bathroom at our in-laws’ house (because crying in front of them would be mortifying). And then we move on and hope that the next year would be a little less painful than the last.
This is the point in the blog post where I should turn the thought on its head and offer something hopeful that changes our perspective so that we can see something great in the midst of something yucky.
Sorry to disappoint.
But – we do not mourn as those without hope. God is good – all the time. Even when I do not understand this world and the pain in it, I can look to God to make sense of it all someday. My pain is because of a loss that I have; I miss that person. That will not go away. And why should it? There is nothing that will change the fact that I miss my mom. Missing her is the only appropriate response that I could possibly have to the fact that she is not with us for the holidays or for any day. But that does not mean that I lack hope or that I am in despair. In fact, I would assert that I honor her best by accepting that I miss her, by recognizing her absence, by having my little cry, being thankful for the time I had with her before she was gone, and then by enjoying those I have around me…