“Dear Patty, I am about to go through my first Thanksgiving without my son and I don’t know what to expect. Any words of advice?”
First of all, I am sorry this is your world right now. I feel like you can’t hear that enough in the early days of loss. I am sorry. I am sorry. I am sorry. I want you to know I see you and I recognize how hard it is to get up and go through the day. But time carries on whether we want it to or not, doesn’t it? Sigh. And here comes Thanksgiving.
We had always spent Thanksgiving with our friends in the neighborhood, and the year Luke passed away, we decided to try and keep things normal and see how it went. I made my required dishes, the mashed potatoes and whiskey glazed carrots and pumpkin cheesecake, and trudged up the hill with John and Logan to the Sachs’ house. I tried to have a glass of wine and smile and make small talk, and I thought I was doing brilliantly until it was time to go into the dining room and have dinner. I took one step through the archway and looked at the table, and despite it being decorated with beautiful crystal and fall decor and everything Thanksgiving, all I could see was what was missing. There was no place setting for my boy. My beautiful, beautiful Luke. So, I cried. Everyone waited for me to be ready, I was surrounded by love and support after all, and then we ate. It was fine. Mostly. Decently horrible. Actually. But sometimes decently horrible is the best you can expect.
So, what are my options?
Activities that involve friends or family: We had made the choice to be with our friends for the holiday and honestly, it wasn’t a bad strategy. This family loves us and there was no pressure for things to go a certain way. If we had bolted mid-meal they would have totally understood. Going with your usual routine or tradition is always an option. Sometimes it makes you feel like your life hasn’t changed that much, or maybe you are in a little bit of denial (like I was), and taking the step to treat Thanksgiving as business as usual can be comforting. Especially if it involves friends and family who will love you no matter what emotions you display.
Thanksgiving with just the immediate family: Logan and John and I did this one year, and I have to admit, I didn’t love it. We did up the bird and our sides and our desserts, but because it was just us, it felt more like a nice dinner for the three of us, rather than Thanksgiving. All that being said, you have to choose what is best for YOU. And if being in the comfort of your home with only your immediate family sounds like the best way to deal with the day, then go for it
Skip it altogether: A childhood friend of John’s lost her son about a year after Luke passed away. Any time a significant occasion was approaching – Birthdays, Mother’s Day, Christmas – she would book herself a flight out of town and wait for the whole time period to pass by. Make like it wasn’t even happening. Crazy? Nope. Genius. If *out of sight, out of mind* was her way of getting through emotionally charged days, I call it a success. And you can do the same. If you want to stay in your jammies and binge your favorite show, or sit in a comfy chair and read, or even stay in bed all day, and pretend it is just another day, I say YES.
So, here’s what I need you to know: Thanksgiving is a holiday that celebrates all things family and when you are missing someone you love, it is, in a word, hard. It is damn hard. Thanksgiving is chock full of memories, and all around you are sights and sounds and smells that will remind you of your loved one. So, go easy on yourself. Try not to expect to much or do to much. Let people help you, if you can. And above all, give yourself the gift of grace and acceptance no matter what way you decide to spend this holiday. Sometimes, our number one job in grief is to protect our heart. So this is me, telling you, whatever you choose, it’s okay. Protect your heart.
See you on the other side. Xxx