A year ago, our family of four celebrated our last Thanksgiving as a together family. I remember it so vividly. With no extended family in town, we decided to splurge on the local Four Seasons, enjoying most especially a dessert buffet that filled an entire room. We never took the kids to places like that, and the impression lasted. Huge smiles, thanks shared, especially for one another... It was one of the happiest holidays I'd experienced with our family. Yet it was a mere three days later that life as I knew it changed forever. Especially post-9-11, I should have known that life could change in an instant, but, in my naivete, I never thought it would happen to me -- not to this happy family, captured in an iPhone snapshot, standing by the chocolate fountain with smiles exuding love and gratitude.
Approaching Thanksgiving this year, my emotions are high, knowing that I want to make it an extra-special day for Petunia and Dash, who wanted to return to the Four Seasons; but I knew such a thing would exceed my emotional capacity. Then, blessedly, the invitations started pouring in. A friend who has become like a bonus sister is hosting her first-ever Thanksgiving at her home, in honor of her late mother who always hosted the big day. "We're bringing together those we love and hold dear," she wrote. "Join us." I accepted, offering to bring a tray of let's-pretend-it's-traditional mac-n-cheese -- the only Thanksgiving food that I'm sure Dash will eat -- and a pumpkin custard, and some special surprise appetizer that I hope to have figured out by the time this post is published.
Context is everything, really. Spending Thanksgiving with a friend who's experienced multiple losses in the past couple of years seems appropriate. I know I am not alone in my pain, just as I know we will all share in the joy that a houseful of kids and friends and family always breeds. Somehow, we'll get through the day with what I'm sure will be loads of laughs, and then, somehow, we'll get through Christmas, and next year, and the year after that. I know that. It's just hard to forget that our reality has changed when I still have the picture in my head of something completely different. New pictures will be taken, new memories will be forged, and someday, it'll get easier. But this Thanksgiving, I'm not going to pretend like everything is swell. It's weird, and it hurts, and it's all wrong, and God, it's not even Christmas -- and yet, it's my new normal.
What I can do that's positive is to focus deeply on my own thankfulness, and I'm thankful now in ways I never imagined. My "sisters," they have been lifesavers in ways I cannot bring myself to write. There are a few "brothers" in there, too, who have shown up in some pretty magnificent ways. There's my family, especially my parents, who have taken a lot of trips West just to be here with us, to help fill the void a little and to offer some relief and some extra love. There's my dog -- my sweet, ever-loving, furry third child -- who is just so ... herself. So Lola. So hysterically funny, and affectionate, and wildly entertaining. There are friends all around the world who check in, who distract, who pray. There are two jobs, a huge church family, food and shelter and a working fireplace ... stories to read, hot chocolate to share, snickerdoodles and giggles and so very much love.
And there are the two most important people in the world for whom I am thankful: two kids who came into this world from a place of great love and, each day, make me want to be a better person. They are my reason for getting out of bed, for doing good work, for being my best self, for living with integrity and purpose. They make me want to make the world a better place not for them, but with them. They are so fundamentally good. They are grace at work before my very eyes -- their glistening, happy, hopeful eyes in which I see a reflection of God in His heaven declaring that all is right with the world. Even when it doesn't feel like it. Even when the Thanksgivings I envisioned are FUBAR. Even when I don't know when I'll say that I'm okay and really mean it.
Friends, readers, hold your loved ones a little tighter this holiday season. I don't encourage everyone to treat every holiday like it might be the last -- but what if we did? Would we worry less about menus and decorations and the ideal of perfection and perhaps laugh a little louder, delve a little deeper into sharing that gratitude, create some memories that'll be the stories we tell our grandkids one day? Would we care a little less about the condition of the house and more about the condition of the people in it?
I'm not ever going to be thankful for this blind turn my life has taken, but I sure am thankful for the belief in myself that has been borne from it. I'm thankful that I get to live a healthy, happy, fulfilling life in spite of it all. And yes, I'm still thankful for chocolate fountains, mountains of happy memories, and many more to come -- well, perhaps minus the chocolate fountain, though I'm pretty sure that made it onto someone's Santa list. And that there is what I'm increasingly most thankful for: perspective. For the kids, it's all about the sweets, whether it be chocolate or kisses, as well it should be for all of us. Have a blessedly fulfilling Thanksgiving, all.