Thanksgiving was easier this year. I think. It was certainly less terrifying than the first year. I still remember that first year, when we changed the tradition from being at my in-laws' house to Drew's aunt & uncle's house near Houston. His aunt did assigned seats… and I was sat next to the ONLY empty chair in the whole room. Which also happened to be at what I affectionately call the Widow table. Myself, his grandmother (widowed), his aunt (also widowed). Now I know it was accidental, but I had to laugh at the complete irony of the whole situation. Sometimes you have to laugh or you'll cry, am I right? I was paralyzed by the fear that I would cry during the prayer (which I did anyway, so fearing it was futile). It ended up being a fun table to be at in the end. We had plenty of dark laughter to go around, after all. Still, I remember wanting nothing more than to be alone and just erupt in tears for hours on end. The feeling was literally a pain in my heart. You all know that pain.
Oh the fear of that first Thanksgiving. Every single event that first year - fear held me captive. I was afraid to leave the house at all in the first few weeks. Afraid to go to movies. Afraid to eat out. Afraid to get a hair cut because of small talk. Afraid of work. Afraid to go to the doctor to get anxiety meds because I knew I'd have to say why. Afraid to be introduced to people's friends. Afraid to go places he and I went together. Afraid everywhere I went because I didn't know when the grief would overtake me or how or why. I was SO fragile. So deeply deeply fragile. I felt like a child again. Perhaps I was so broken that - in a way - I was a child again.
Last year was better. We did the same routine at his aunt & uncle's house, but at least this time the seating arrangement was different and I didn't get the empty chair next to me. I remember waking up on Thanksgiving morning and actually feeling excited about turkey and pie… and to my surprise, the paralyzing fear was not there. There was sadness, deep deep sadness still, but not the sort that overtook me entirely. More the sort that was able to sit alongside my joy and wait its turn a bit. So it was better.
This year, my relationship with the sadness was even more changed. A part of me seems to understand that he won't be there now, and know this more as a matter of fact now. It has started to become something my body and soul are accepting as the norm I feel. Like "okay, we've done this before, we know what we're dealing with" Which is strange, but… in a way nice. Nice to not feel like I am fighting it. Nice to just know this as truth and perhaps begin to relax into that a bit.
I think it helped that we did something different this year too. His family and I went in to San Antonio and had our celebration at a nice hotel there in town. His little brother just joined the Air Force, and was only allowed the day off base - hence the plan to do the hotel buffet thing. It ended up being this really beautiful day. We have barely had any contact with his brother while he's in basic training. In a way, this limited contact has reminded us again just how precious our time together is, each day we get to have it.
We had no expectations for the day other than to see his brother. We could have enjoyed our Thanksgiving dinner at McDonald's for all we cared, so long as we got to all be together. That is something that Drew's death changed for all of us, I think. When we are all together now - there is a different kind of gratitude flowing through the room. A deeper gladness for each other. It is how Drew's death has changed all of my relationships to those I am close to. It is a gift he has left us - a deeper perspective about what's important.
In a really unexpected way… the sadness was minimal. Instead of it riding alongside my joy, or just underneath it waiting to erupt, it actually seemed to take a back seat. That doesn't meant Drew took a back seat though. There was not a single moment all day that I wasn't thinking of him and loving him. But somehow… instead of the sadness, there was love. The miracle of the love he gave me. The love of the family he brought into my life. The joy of the new opportunities and new people that his death has brought into my life. The gratitude of his life and death giving me the chance to live my dreams today. The joy of knowing this one man changed the entire course of my life forever - and that he still is, even in death.
The more I heal and the more I step into myself and live my life fully - it seems the closer he and I get. I hope that is something everyone can believe and hope for - that when we begin to heal and help each other heal, our relationship to them only becomes stronger. That when we begin to live more boldly - they come with us along the journey.
I was told this a long time ago and I never could believe or understand it. It sounded impossible to ever not feel the pain or sadness at an excruciating level. But now… I'm beginning to understand. It has happened really slowly over these three years. So slowly that I couldn't even notice it was happening until just this week.
Pain is not the only way to experience our loved ones who have crossed over. And as we heal, and the pain begins to subside naturally on its own timeline, it will leave room for the love. I was scared it wouldn't for a long time. This whole year it seems has been a lesson in letting go of the fear that not feeling the pain or sadness as strongly will mean not feeling him anymore. Not true. I am learning.
As we heal there will only be more room for the love to grow. And grow it will. They are with us forever. Sending all of you love on this Thanksgiving Week… whether you are in the hell of it all or somewhere further along that feels less raw - my love to you all.