I’m been almost fourteen years since my husband’s death and Thanksgiving still drains me.
It’s improved though.
Where some wounding was more pronounced and somewhat of a surprise, other things that threatened to rip me apart, no longer have the same effect.
I attribute my struggle to fighting to stay in the traditions of Thanksgiving those first bunch of years. It was as if I was going to force our lives back to “normal” by clinging to all of the traditions our small family barely had time to develop. Even though I didn’t feel like making dinner or hosting people. Heck! For most of those first few Thanksgivings, I barely wanted to shower or brush my teeth.
It became easier to move through the holidays when I broke the mold I kept trying to stuff us back into and followed my gut.
This meant different things for quite a few years.
FOURTEEN THANKSGIVINGS, MANY THANKSGIVINGS
Hospital, bedside at The Fisher House – year one, once.
Ordering pizza and turning on minimal lights, allowing my kid to play video games and watch movies until he grew sick of it – three or four times.
A trip to Mexico with other widows and their kiddos – once.
A cruise with an organization that encouraged children of fallen service members in their grief – once.
Receiving the invitation of well meaning, kind hearted friends and attending but with early, fairly fast exit strategies – at least three times.
Traveling out-of-state to spend time with my family – several times, but not back-to-back.
Other than the trips (once a plane ticket was booked, I felt I had committed), I always reserved the right to change my mind. I’m sure it frustrated people who loved and cared for us, but it was what I felt I needed to do. As I look back over all of the ways I showed up (and survived) at Thanksgiving, I have no regrets.
The holidays are hard anyway; a lot of expectations and pressure to make it look like something in one person’s mind or from their Pinterest page. Oftentimes, stressors, miscommunication and unresolved/unaddressed tension throughout the year come to a head. Dysfunction reigns and unhealthy, toxic behaviors rear their ugly heads.
Adding palpable grief to the traditions and unspoken expectations of Thanksgiving wasn’t going to work for me.
And it was a good gift.
In hindsight, I realize how often I’d made myself pliable to others, rarely speaking my heart’s desires. About many things in general, but our Thanksgiving celebration in particular.
Grief made me do it. It made me hold my ground, it helped me speak up for me and my child.
And for that, I am grateful.