Thanksgiving is hard on my heart.
My birthday is usually close to, and sometimes on, Thanksgiving. So we often celebrate them together. What makes that especially painful for me since Dominic ran ahead to heaven is that the last birthday before he left was a surprise party at his apartment.
It was wonderful and loud and fun and filled with laughter and love.
So all those good but achingly hard memories are wrapped up with the turkey and dressing.
Thanksgiving has also been our family’s favorite holiday for opening our home to people. No gift-giving expectations and abundant food made adding another chair to the table easy and fun. Internationals, singles, widowers, and other families often joined us cramming the house as full as our stomachs.
So now when the gathering is intimate and one chair left unfilled, it echoes loudly to my heart that things are oh, so different!
The first year after Dominic ran ahead, we went out of town. Our eldest son had married that summer and we visited him and his wife in West Virginia. A power outage that lasted through Thanksgiving Day evening was a welcome, if slightly annoying, diversion from the heaviness of the first real holiday without Dominic. Traveling used up some of what would have been long, empty days. So, for us, it was the best thing to do that year.
The second year we kind of muddled through with a facsimile of years past. it was a struggle and not at all comfortable for my heart. I don’t really know what I was thinking or not thinking that year-the second year found me more anxious, less able to deal with my sadness and overwhelmed by unexpected grief waves that swept me under before I knew it.
The third year some very special friends invited us to join them for Thanksgiving. They fixed all the food and we crowded together in their daughter’s apartment, packed in but jolly and very well loved. Getting there involved an unpleasant and emotional discussion with extended family. But the day was redeemed and it was exactly what I needed last year.
This year-well-I’m not entirely sure just yet.
There are a number of factors keeping us from making definitive plans. My mother is still unwell and not able to travel. One son will most likely be absent. Some friends may need a place to land and a table around which to gather.
So my plan is to have a plan by early next week.
I’ve done a few things so far: purchased pretty paper plates, baked some goodies and put them in the freezer, got my Thanksgiving cards out (remember-I’m sending them instead of Christmas cards this year!), washed the big windows in the kitchen and living room, and begun putting out feelers to the lonely and abandoned in our circle to see if they are interested in coming for a meal.
The meal is the easy part. Because in the end, as long as it ends with pie and chocolate, who really cares what you eat beforehand? 🙂
The hard part is the conversations.
The way I have to remind even those closest to me that this year will be just. as. hard. as every other year since Dominic left us. The way I have to breathe deep and swallow words so I don’t burst out crying at the mention of who’s coming and who’s not-because Dominic will never come again. The way I have to be very, very careful to balance all the emotional needs of family members and try to respect various requests for what’s important to their hearts.
I remind myself that I am not the focus of every event or holiday. I am not the only one carrying emotional or physical burdens that require accommodation. I am not given a pass to act ugly or pitch a fit or crawl in a hole and hide just because I buried a child.
So I try to think ahead, ask ahead, make my needs known ahead and then I participate as fully as I can-with a smile and an open heart to the ones that still gather.
I refuse to turn every holiday into a battle and every meal into uncomfortable silence where people are afraid to say anything for fear of hurting my feelings.
I honor Dominic by honoring those I have left.
My heart may be broken, but it is also blessed.
I won’t let one overshadow the other.