November 18th, 2011
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A Bowl of Hot Smashed Spuds…YUMMMM

As we ready for that time of year when we traditionally pause and give thanks, this year may be hard for some to find a reason to be thankful.

If you recently lost a loved one, a holiday celebration can exacerbate all the jumbled up feelings you are experiencing and trying to understand.

Thanksgiving was the first holiday that my son and I experienced following my husband’s death.  Our son was thirteen at the time and he and I decided to stay with our usual Thanksgiving routine of having dinner at my parent’s house with some of my siblings and their children. Basically, we thought it would be best if we did what was familiar.  I know there are some people who decide to mark the holiday in a completely new way after a loved one has died but I think that would have been too radical for us.  I understand that thinking and I would have loved to have traveled over Thanksgiving break to a place where I didn’t know anyone but I didn’t think that would be good for my son.

I think I knew that Thanksgiving day would feel very different without my husband but I didn’t really understand the depth of the difference until the day was set in motion.

On one level, I pretended that it was a day like any other day and my loved one just wasn’t around.  I didn’t really consciously think about why he wasn’t there with me; he just wasn’t there.  I think I thought that if I kept moving forward through the day, the consequences of his death wouldn’t catch up to me.  Pretty foolish right?
I was holding it all together until I actually arrived at my parents house and I saw the table set and everyone scurrying around, busy preparing food as though it were any other Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving.  NOT!!
 norman rockwell

I quickly took in the whole scene and looked around the room and realized I was there without my husband and that my husband wasn’t there because he just died.  I knew that I knew this in my head but the full emotional effect of the first holiday without my husband truly threw me into a meltdown of tears.  My son was with me but as soon as he saw his cousins he went off and played with them which was perfectly normal.  I was glad for him and I wished that I had some friends to go and play with so I wouldn’t have to deal with reality.

The only way I can describe how I felt that day is that as I looked around the room and I felt very lost and I thought to myself, “How can everyone act like nothing has happened?  I feel awful!”  I ended up crying and going for a ride in the car with my Dad.  We talked for a long time about how he felt when his parents died and I gathered myself together and we went back for dinner.  It’s wasn’t great but I got through it.  That year I was just thankful to get through the day.

Thanksgiving was the first of many times that I GOT THROUGH IT.  Sorry but that’s all I can say about it.  The holiday was celebrated, I was physically there with other people but I didn’t feel any joy.  I just felt numb and fuzzy and like there was a knot in my stomach.  But I couldn’t stay in my house and isolate myself.  I think that would have made everything worse.  After about a million times of getting through things, I slowly began to notice a shift in my emotions: I didn’t always feel so close to tears and I didn’t always feel outside of myself.

This year before I dig into my mashed potatoes (notice I put those first), stuffing, cranberries and turkey, I’m going to pause and give thanks for the gift of perseverance and the major blessings in my life: my son, my family, my friends and my health.

If you know someone who just lost a spouse, a child, a relative or a friend, please ask them if they have plans for Thanksgiving.  They might turn down the invitation and then again they might accept the invitation.  Including someone who is having a rough time of it might change the atmosphere of your holiday celebration, but I would hope that it could be different in a good way for sharing your gifts is a way of showing you care.

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