I wasn’t going to write about grief this Thanksgiving (except for yesterday’s brief mention of the guests who won’t be coming to dinner) because I didn’t want to break anyone’s holiday mood. Then I realized this is exactly the attitude I’ve been fighting. We shouldn’t ignore grief just because it is inconvenient for others or because it might make them pause to reflect on the ephemeral nature of life. Grief is part of life, and for some of us, it is our life.
The truth is, a huge number of people in the United States will be crying themselves to sleep tonight. For some of those people, this is the first Thanksgiving since the death of a significant person in their lives — a spouse, perhaps, or a child. For others it is the second Thanksgiving or even the tenth. But the number of years that the person has been gone doesn’t matter when it comes to holidays. What matters is that our loved ones are dead. A happy occasion with family, friends, food, turns out not to be so much fun when an absence (or a remembered presence) looms darkly over our hearts. Or if the occasion is fun, and the bereft forgets the truth for a moment, the grief rebound can be painful.
I had a lovely time today. Three of my brothers and their mates came to have dinner with my father and me. They brought everything except the table decorations and the turkey. Those I did. (I didn’t actually cook a turkey. I cooked turkey tenderloins several days ago and froze them, then today I steamed the pieces and arranged them on a platter. I didn’t feel up to cooking a turkey, and anyway, the oven is on the blink.)
The talk was congenial, the company delightful, the meal delicious, the toasts divinely inspired (I toasted my mother, who would have been proud of her men. During her final weeks, she worried that the family would drift apart.)
Afterward, two by two, the guests headed home. My father lay down for his nap. And there I was, alone, with no way to go home. My dead mate was my home, and even after nineteen months, I haven’t been able to find “home” within myself or anywhere else for that matter. I stood for a moment feeling adrift and sorry for myself, then set my father’s house to rights — taking the extra leaf out of the table, putting away the dishes that had been washed, doing all the other after tasks.
And then . . . in the quiet moment before I focused my mind on another activity, grief — that great yearning — burst over me. (For those of you who worry about me, there is no need. I am okay. Truly. These grief bursts, which relieve the stress of my sorrow, are how I keep on being okay.)
He is gone, and there is nothing I can do about it. I keep re-realizing those two simple facts. I do not think our brains are wired to understand the sheer goneness of death. Someone emailed me not long ago, expressing her admiration that I can talk about grief without feeling sorry for myself, but honestly, except for isolated moments, which I refuse to feed, I don’t feel sorry for myself. A lot of grief has to do with the mind disconnect that happens when you realize your loved one is no longer here on earth. It’s as if for a second you open up to a cosmic reality or an eternal truth. The façade of life shatters, and through the cracks you can almost see, almost sense, almost know . . .
Then you are back to yourself, and you don’t see, you don’t sense, you don’t know anything but that — holiday or not — you are alone.
To all of my bereft friends, who are struggling with the challenges of this holiday, I wish for you a peaceful night.