It was a long time ago, our first holiday season with the empty chair. It was dark and cold, but everything was ready. The table was set, the turkey cooked, the candles lit and the seats filled – except one. I stood at the kitchen sink and wondered how I was going to act as the cheery hostess to family and friends who had gathered to celebrate Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving! What was there to be thankful for this year?! It had been a year of struggle, each day being worse than the last until they all had just blurred into a nightmare. Whoever said, “Time heals all wounds” had never been as mortally wounded as I had! Time had healed nothing! In fact, I think I was suffering more as the weeks and months went by. It was as if I had been frozen in the early days and weeks after the death and only now, months later, was I beginning to thaw. And as I began to defrost out of my icy numbness, it only seemed to hurt more. That didn’t make sense, but it was true.
And now, the holiday season had arrived and that only served to send me deeper into the gloom. I found myself wanting to hide, to cancel family gatherings. I wanted to run away. I did not want to shop for gifts, and I certainly did not want to send holiday greetings. A snarl or a frown swept over my face more often than a cheery holiday hello. I kept thinking of all the things I would never enjoy again: the smell of Mom’s pumpkin pie, the happy chatter around the table as Dad carved the turkey, the sweet silliness of his happy grin. The list of what I was missing grew longer and longer each day that I survived. Every day brought new discoveries of the most painful kind.
I kept seeing empty spaces at the table and feeling empty places in my heart. It seemed to hurt more now than it did earlier in my grief. Surely I must be slipping into insanity! I thought it was supposed to get better, not worse! I had tried to cancel the family celebration, but they wouldn’t hear of it! “Oh No!” they said. “We can’t miss _____________(whatever I had suggested not doing). It wouldn’t be the holidays without ____________.” That was exactly my point! I didn’t want the holidays to be here, and I certainly did not want to celebrate anything!
I tried passing off certain family “chores” to other members and once in a while that worked. I decided not to send holiday greetings to anyone, and my gift shopping was limited to catalog browsing and telephone ordering. I couldn’t bear the mall crowds, the noise and that horrible, happy holiday music everywhere! Every time I went out, I felt as though I had been assaulted by the Holiday Spirit. The only thing that seemed to sparkle for me were the tears that left little icy streaks across my cheek once in a while.
I even tried to move, but the family voted to come to my house for the turkey dinner, and so, now, they were gathering in the dining room, waiting for the festivities to begin. The turkey was stuffed, the pies baked, the gravy lump free as best I could without Mother’s gentle guidance. But, there was little Thanksgiving or holiday spirit within me. Thank heavens I didn’t have to come up with a blessing to say this day!
It is a tradition in our family for the youngest at the table to say the blessing. And so it fell to our six-year-old daughter, now an “only child,” to find some words of thanksgiving to share with the ever-growing-smaller family around the table. She refused, of course, adding more stress to an already impossible day.
No amount of yelling, coaxing, bribing, pleading or threatening had inspired her to serve as the family spokesman. It had become a battle of wills between a mother and a daughter, something similar to several “engagements” that my mother and I had endured.
Finally, at the last moment, alone with me in our kitchen, she sighed and relented. “But I will only say grace at dessert,” she said. “Good enough,” I said with relief. I had always been thankful for dessert -just like my dad, her grandpa!
It was a quiet meal, filled with awkward moments and many sniffled tears. After the pie was served, our daughter asked us to join hands in a circle (aka Walton style) and she looked around the table, giving each one of us a full moment of her gaze. Then, she drew a long breath and said, in her small, but clear, child voice,
“Thanks for the little while.. .”
Ahhhh! What other words could have said so much! It took a child to remind us of the moments we did have! We each loved someone, and someone loved us. Find those memories and cherish them. Remember first that they lived, not that they died. I want to remember the life, not just the death!
Live through the hurt so that joy can return to warm your heart. No matter which holiday it is for you, and no matter the season of your grief, say thank you for a life well lived and loved. It wasn’t long enough – it never would have been. But it was a little while.
They lived. We loved them. We still do. Thanks for the little while.
by Darcie Sims, Copyright 2001 Bereavement PubIishing, Inc l-888-604-4673 (Hope)