Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. In spite of the Black Friday craziness, in spite of stores being open on Thursday (seriously?!?), it has managed to mostly stay true to itself, our yearly reminder of the importance of giving thanks, whatever our situation.
This time five years ago, though, giving thanks was the last thing on my mind. One week before, I had chosen to have a D&C to complete the miscarriage I had begun three weeks earlier. Our baby had no heartbeat — that had been confirmed twice by ultrasound. But my body was as reluctant to let go of her as my heart was, and with the holidays approaching, we felt this was the best choice. That way, by the time Thanksgiving came, we figured, I would be well on the road to recovery.
I was, physically. But my heart was shattered, again. This was our second loss in eight months. This baby, who we named Kyria, was supposed to be the rainbow baby who would bring hope back into our lives after our daughter Naomi had died in my second trimester. But our rainbow had faded, and the chairs around the Thanksgiving table mocked me, reminding me of the children who should have filled them in the future … but wouldn’t.
I survived that Thanksgiving, but that is all. And you know what? That was good enough.
Are you facing this, too, this year? Maybe this is your first Thanksgiving without a loved one, whether a parent or a grandparent or a child or a spouse. You may be trying to figure out how to still make it special for your kids, or you may be dreading it altogether. Whatever your situation, here are some ideas for how to deal with Thanksgiving when your world has fallen apart.
Do an inventory. Not of your pantry, but of your heart and your annual traditions. Holidays are hard when you are grieving, for a lot of reasons: the traditions we keep, the people we see, the meanings behind the day. Go through Thanksgiving Day, or the whole weekend, in your mind. Write down what normally happens and who you will see. What will be comforting about it? What will be hard? What will the grief triggers be? What are your children most excited about?
Be easy on yourself. Failed expectations are the cause of so much stress at the holidays, and we can put them on ourselves more than anyone else can. Whatever your “normal” routine is, this year will be different. Even if you do everything the same way, your loved one will be missing. But you don’t have to do it the same way. Go back to your inventory and think about the triggers. Will you be able to handle being around your very pregnant cousin? Or the new baby? Or the newlyweds? Will making the same desserts as always bring you comfort, or will it be painful in the wake of missing your grandmother? Give yourself permission to do things differently if you need to, without the fear that you will be disappointing someone if you do.
Create an escape route. If you are in a large family gathering, find a place where you can get away for a few minutes if you need to, whether that is a guest room or the back porch. If you don’t want to join in on the traditional Black Friday family shopping trip, or watch the Macy’s parade together, it’s okay to make other plans and even start new traditions.
Do something special in memory of your loved one. Make your grandmother’s special pie. Wear a piece of jewelry in memory of your child. Make a list of all the ways your dad blessed your life. Have everyone share a special memory. Include your loved one in the celebration.
Consider the history of Thanksgiving. Much of the history surrounding the Thanksgiving celebration of 1621 has been romanticized. One thing that we know, though, is that not a single person there was a stranger to grief. Of the 102 people on the Mayflower, less than half lived through the first winter, and more than half of those survivors were children. Only four adult women had survived, and one of them was now a widow. Nearly every family had lost someone dear. And the Wampanoag tribe that joined them for their feast had also been touched by the tragedy of disease. It was a group that had undergone much suffering — they had come through it, and had been changed by it. And yet … they gave thanks.
Choose one thing to thank God for. Of course you can be thankful for more than that. But if Thanksgiving feels like a punch in the gut this year, just pick one. Not because you have to, not because you need to get over your grief, but because in the end, focusing on the good in our lives brings us healing and peace.
This Thanksgiving, I will shed tears, I know. I will wear my memorial necklace and think about the brave survivors of 1621. As I look at the chairs around the table, I will think of many loved ones awaiting us in Heaven, especially the children I carried for such a brief time. And I will thank God for their lives and how He used them to change mine.
What will you do?