Then the unbearable happens. We lose someone in our family’s holiday portrait. The first year is the hardest. The bigger the presence, the bigger the gap. Sometimes at that first holiday we feel as though we will never laugh again. Joy is a memory.
How do we get through a holiday when we’ve lost someone we love and our hearts are breaking?
This morning at church, I saw a family who lost their matriarch last week. Her husband, children, and grandchildren sat together starting this hardest of Thanksgivings together on their knees. You see them there, together, every Thanksgiving, just as you do every Sunday. Grandma would have been with them, singing and savoring her family. Kleenexes were in some hands. When we stood up to sing, the youngest grand-daughter, sitting by her grandpa, grabbed his hand and gave him a big hug.
It was like death was the Grinch who tried to steal their Thanksgiving, but Susie Who stood in the family circle and began singing.
If I could paint like Norman Rockwell, I would have painted the scene of a family, with an empty seat in the pew, helping one another get through the grief and the holiday.
Grief comes in waves. We can manage when it recedes. But when it laps close to the shore of our hearts, we sometimes feel as though we’re drowning. That’s where the beauty of helping one another through the grief can save us. Just when I need it the most, you can throw me a lifeline which I’ll return to you when it’s your turn.
No one will ever fill that empty chair in the family portrait. We carry it with us. With time, and with each other’s help, it grows easier. The Thanksgrieving we endure now will eventually transform again to Thanksgiving, when we can thank God for our loved ones and what they gave us. Our suffering will one day help us better reach out to others in the same situation.
When your Thanksgiving becomes a year of Thanksgrieving, grab your Kleenex, and reach out for your loved ones.
We have been there too and will help you endure. You are not alone – never have been, never were. If we help each other, we can both again say more easily: Happy Thanksgiving.
And mean it.