Being thankful takes on a whole new meaning when you have had your entire world ripped apart with a significant loss. As a natural problem solver, I set out to figure out how to have Thanksgiving and have it not horrible for my family. That was my only expectation, not, absolutely, horrible. When my daughter passed away 10 months ago, I didn’t want any holidays at my house. I couldn’t imagine another holiday without my girl. In truth, observing the holidays or not, the holidays, as we have had them in the past, were over.
My youngest daughters soon found all the constant changes to be daunting and asked if we could keep the basic holidays the same. This meant Thanksgiving would be at my house. My oldest daughter informed me she was bringing her boyfriend and his son who had just turned 6. I was thrilled to have some different faces at the table and a little guy would be a little distraction. I came up with a few activities for him to do, decorate turkey cookies, and help decorate my new purple Christmas tree, maybe a craft or two.
I have been feeling impending anxiety over Christmas almost since the moment the shock wore off a few months ago. Christmas Eve and Christmas day have always been special to my girls. I have spent many hours contemplating how to navigate this holiday. The first thing I came up with was gifts to my family from my daughter who has passed. This year I have had teddy bears made from her clothing from someone I found on Etsy. Inside each bear is a locket of my daughter’s hair. For my husband I had a T-shirt quilt ordered. I am hopeful it makes it in time.
I have mulled over buying gifts and knew I wanted to buy a gift in her honor. I need to always buy four Santa gifts. The first thing I came up with was an angel tree at our church for grieving children that have lost someone similar, a parent or a sibling. The gifts would go towards the therapy house, the Dougy Center, that helps children and teens nationwide. I then considered purchasing a gift for a child less fortunate, and as it so happens, a friend posted on facebook she wanted to get gifts for her students who were barely above the poverty line. I would get the fourth Santa gift for one of her students then. There’s my sign.
I knew that as soon as Thanksgiving was over, the Christmas decorations would come out. I also knew there was no way I wanted to open up the attic and get out 23 years of my families Christmas decorations. It would destroy me emotionally. The weeks before Thanksgiving I set out to come up with new Christmas trees and decorations that could honor my daughter and serve as new traditions. The color that represents my daughter is purple. I found a purple tree on Amazon and set out to a few craft stores to collect angels for a purple angel tree to decorate with my girls and our little six-year-old guest after Thanksgiving.
While gathering the angel tree supplies I ran across another idea. My daughter in heaven and I read all the Harry Potter books together. We saw every movie and would even contemplate different scenarios in the books. While surfing the net I found Harry Potter decorated Christmas trees. I ordered a small tree for the t.v. room and spend a weekend with my youngest daughter painting wand ornaments, rolling scrolls, and feathers.
Thankful. What does it mean to be thankful? Grateful? How can I be thankful? The story of Job kept popping into my mind. Job was a good man and he suffered a great loss in his life. Job was angry at God and accuses God of being unjust and questions God why he would be allowed to suffer. God gives Job kind of His worldview that is infinite compared to our small view, showing Job his worldview is very limited. The story of Job doesn’t explain suffering, but it shows how we live in this insanely complex imperfect world and God asked us to still trust Him.
The bad things that happened to Job actually came from Satan and the imperfections of this world. Job lost all his children and became very ill. Though he was grief-stricken and didn’t understand why these things happened to him, he still kept his faith. Job was rewarded for his continued faith. Despite the suffering we experience, we can be thankful for God’s love even in the worst of times.
When I was younger I always avoided that story. The main reason is I disliked the suffering Job goes through. Maybe it was prophetic that I had such a huge dislike for that book. Our world is full of suffering, the true testimony in that story though is how Job still gave thanks to God in the worst days of his life.
The day before Thanksgiving I met one of my best friends at the grocery store. She held my list and walked with me through the aisles to get the needed items for a traditional Thanksgiving meal. For whatever reason, she knew how hard that grocery trip would be for me, and I am very, very grateful for having her with me to help shop. I recommend having someone with you if possible if you are also planning an emotionally charged gettogether.
I spent hours cooking by myself, my youngest somewhere watching holiday specials, my middle daughter had been gone for days watching my in-laws pets, and my oldest daughter had not arrived as of yet, with her boyfriend and his son. Out of the blue, my middle daughter shows up in the kitchen and my brain does a weird flashback or glitch where I imagine it’s my daughter that passed standing there for one brief second. After giving her a quick hug and reassuring her I am ok, I head upstairs to compose myself where I have the beginnings of a full blown panic attack. I have only had a handful in my life, but here again, I am very thankful for the one remaining anxiety pill for panic attacks prescribed to me and sitting in the cabinet. Again my advice to anyone going through their first year of grief would be to have just a couple emergency anti-anxiety pills tucked away if you are prone to or ever have had similar anxiety attacks. I was immediately able to breathe normally again and was able to continue with a nice meal and no other incidents.
At dinner I looked around our table and thought about these things, Like Job, I was still thankful, though my suffering was not gone. I was thankful for what I did have, for the young Tasmanian devil that had come to visit me, for my friend that had taken me shopping, for the resources I needed to stay functional and of course for being able to see another sunrise knowing that tomorrow is not promised.
The little guy didn’t really like making cookies, we did get the purple angel tree up and the harry potter tree in place, though he gave up helping at some point. We made a cardboard and tin foil iron man costume instead of turkeys and the bunch headed out the door. I look around my house and observe some sort of Thanksgiving/Christmas tornado with the shrapnel of decorations and cut up recycling everwhere and acknowledge that though I am still suffering, I am still thankful.