There was a facebook video going around recently where the Dad wakes up and unwraps his wife and kids, then his car and shower and so on. At first, I thought it was stupid. Also, I will never get to “unwrap” one of my kids…. I left that thought on the back burner in my mind and went about my day. Then I was in a small group a couple days later and someone brought up the same video.
With some trepidation of bringing my entire group to a somber level, I told the funeral owner sitting across from me I was thankful for him and why. The truth is, with Thanksgiving approaching, I’ve been rethinking Thankful. It is easy to say, I am thankful for my house, and cars and kids and dog and whatever, but what does it mean to be truly Thankful? How can I feel truly thankful when my child has been taken from me?
I’ve come to some sort of understanding that I can be thankful for what I value, and still be sad from what I have lost. You can feel both, until now, this never occurred to me. I sat looking at the man that I have spent years discuss bible verses with. I really do not know him or his wife extremely well outside of the group. What I do know, is that I am thankful for him and I have never told him or anyone why, until this moment.
The day after my daughter died, she could have been sent to a random facility, as a matter of fact, the hospital somehow had chosen some random place for her to go. My pastor put me in touch with the man sitting across from me in my small group. Instead of going somewhere amongst strangers, she went to his funeral home, near our home, he was there with her, prayed for our family and I cannot express to anyone how much that meant to me. It occurred to me that was the feeling of being thankful.
Many days when I am walking into work, people will ask, “how are you doing today?” There are some days I would respond, “Well I am here.” This sounds somewhat cynical, but the truth is I am thankful for the days I wake up. I am thankful for the days I am able to have a job, one that has been understanding of my own battle with grief and mental health. I am not thrilled with the lack of understanding our world has of these issues, but I do know there are many people without any health care, some of which are my own friends.
How do we move forward being thankful when we have lost a part of us? How do we celebrate a day of Thankfulness? My advice to others is to do what feels right to you and what you can. One of the greatest gifts of having a tragedy happen in your life is the realization that petty things or checklists or other people’s opinions really don’t matter. I already had a bit of that personality, but now, If someone thinks I shouldn’t be doing this or that, I don’t care. If you haven’t walked in my sneakers, then suck it. If I didn’t ask for your opinion, then don’t give it. Too harsh?
Last year my surviving girls asked that I keep the holiday traditions going. I knew that some things were always going to be different so I kept what I felt was important to stay the same (as hard as that was) and incorporated some new traditions, such as my purple angle tree and my Harry Potter room, holidays are still a work in progress as we enter our second year.
Some people dealing with loss put a place set out for their loved one, some people have their holidays in a different location, whatever they need to do to be at peace with their holidays, should be ok with everyone else. (and if it isn’t they should keep it to themselves!)
This year, I am thankful for a sweet distraction. It comes in the form of an almost 6ft, 17-year-old blond, in the form of our Netherlands exchange student. In truth, it was a very big gamble to know if having an exchange student stay with us only a year and a half after our family being thrust into turmoil. It was something we had stumbled on and I hadn’t even been sure all the details were going to work out.
She has never experienced Thanksgiving and some of our other American traditions. Though we are still grieving our loss and having moments and times we are sad, it gives me something to be distracted by. like when I tried to explain the bizarre reason for Thanksgiving and my 20lb turkey or when I watched her try candy corn for the first time. I am thankful for her visiting and being the “something different” in our house this season. I may never walk around with my #Blessed t-shirt or bumper sticker, but I know the value now more than ever of what I do still have and for that I am thankful.