The First Thanksgiving: Pairing Grief AND Gratitude (A Life Interrupted)
Sometimes, only one person is missing, and the whole world seems depopulated.
Alphonse de Lamartine, author
I did it. But I wish I didn’t have to.
I made a full Thanksgiving meal on my own. I roasted a turkey. Peeled a mountain of potatoes. Used the drippings to make gravy. Baked a pan full of dressing, green beans, dinner rolls, an apple crumb pie, plus loads of turkey-themed cookies. I even opened a can of cranberry sauce (it’s okay, you can laugh at me). In all my 45 years of life, I’ve never done this before…never attempted to, never wanted to, and never needed to-but these are strange times that we’re living in and strange times apparently demand complete turkey dinners on Thanksgiving…especially when your Mom is gone.
The duality of living in today’s pandemic is evident everywhere you go. In one day you can see groups of friends hanging out and carrying on without a care in the world and turn the corner to see fully masked families heading into the local grocery store. Our elderly suffer from isolation in their golden years and our healthcare workers are overwhelmed and stressed while millions of others continue to call COVID-19 a hoax to their faces. Daily, Americans walk through temperature checkpoints to get to school, work, or to travel while others plan block parties and the like. There are rallies and protests. I even read about some well-meaning parents who hosted a homecoming dance and now dozens of kids have tested positive. I’m not judging. My own family walks in this duality. We occasionally see local friends, we work outside our home, my kids go to the gym, play sports, and try to maintain normalcy all while walking this line with masks in hand. I jokingly remind them “it’s COVID out there” and ask them to stay socially distanced as they head out the door. When they come home, I greet them and immediately send them to the sink to wash their hands. We’re not perfect. At this point in the pandemic, we’ve all had moments where we’ve let our guard down and subsequently prayed that we don’t pay the penalty. Strange times, indeed.
Nine months in and I can no longer count the number of family members who have contracted COVID-19 on my fingers. I don’t want to attempt to count the number of people in my circle who have had it and my heart breaks when I think about how the Coronavirus has affected my hometown in western Kansas. I have prayed for a number of individuals who have battled, struggled, and won. Praise God! And I have cried for those who weren’t so fortunate. As I write this the death toll in the United States is 267,000+
My mother is one of them.
It’s bizarre to grieve in a pandemic. The normal grieving process is both individual and communal, but when you can’t see family members for fear of contracting or spreading a virus, the grieving process becomes even more peculiar. And when your lost loved one is a victim of that same pandemic, you proceed cautiously and carefully. Honestly, there are days where it feels like you’re barely proceeding at all-like you’re standing still while the world has moved on.
You know the saying, “once bitten, twice shy?” Those are the eggshells that I walk on daily. I know how devastating and life-changing this virus can be. There are hundreds of thousands of people who should have been at the Thanksgiving table with their families this year, but they’re not. Empty chairs, not just in my home, but everywhere. Traditions not just broken, but shattered. Those of us who have lost family members and friends to COVID-19 are experiencing this heartbreak over and over as the narrative has gone from “we’re all in this together” to “there’s nothing to see here, folks.” And yet the pandemic and the loss of life go on.
As we move into this unusual holiday season I can feel myself picking up the pieces of my broken heart non-stop. Normal Thanksgiving meant a road trip across the state with my kids. Normal Thanksgiving meant consulting with my mom, sister, and sisters-in-law about what we would each contribute to the meal. Normal Thanksgiving meant hugs and seeing my nieces and nephews. Normal Thanksgiving is game nights, snacks, and cousin sleepovers. Normal Thanksgiving is coffee with my best friend. Normal Thanksgiving meant going to my mom’s house instead of making a complete Thanksgiving meal on my own.
I did it. But I wish I didn’t have to. In fact, I would have traded anything for it not to be the way that it is.
It was the first Thanksgiving without my Mom and at every turn, we paired our grief with gratitude. I miss my mother so much and my appreciation for the time we had together has continuously grown. Today, I am even more thankful and grateful for her love and influence on my life. Often times I feel like my mother’s memory lives in the kitchen which was so appropriate as I prepared the meal. And while she has been on my mind constantly, in missing her this Thanksgiving I felt like she was very present…somehow still mothering me…urging me to make the most of the holiday, not just for me, but for my kids. That’s the kind of mother she was. Give, give, and give some more. Grieve, but be grateful. In the back of my mind, I kept hearing “keep the traditions.” In my heart, her memory confirmed the feeling that forward is the best option, the only option.
If you know me, you know I take tons of photos and videos. I document everything. (It’s the reporter in me). As Thanksgiving approached this year and the memories started popping up on social media, my daughter said to me, “Mom, I’m so glad you take all the photos and the videos so we can see and hear each other. It makes me sad, but it also makes me happy. We laugh a lot.” Taking photos and videos to share this Thanksgiving seemed extra important. And Casey is right, we do laugh a lot. In many ways, sharing photos and videos are the only way for the whole family to be together while we continue to grieve miles apart.
In the mix of photos I took this year is this one of me at our Thanksgiving table just before the meal was served with an accomplished grin on my face. And guess what, Mom? I didn’t break the oven like I did that time I tried making strudel! I know you’re proud…and maybe even a little bit relieved. We saved you a seat.
“In the day when I cried out, You answered me, and made me bold with strength in my soul.” Psalm 138:3
“A Life Interrupted” is an ongoing series of blog posts dealing with the loss of my mother to COVID-19.
Originally published at http://hymningandhaing.com on November 30, 2020.