This morning T reminded me of the other Thanksgivings that have been full of sadness, loss, or disappointment. Of course, through the years, some Thanksgivings have turned out just fine. If you were a statistician, though, you would see that our family has shockingly high odds of Thanksgiving misfortune. One Thanksgiving, we sat by the bedside of our dying daughter. A few short years later, we sat in the Emergency Room. T, a VERY pregnant me, and one-year-old Luke were waiting for stitches to close a particularly bad “boo boo” to Luke’s head. Luke had fallen into a bookcase just as we were getting ready to walk out the door to go to Grandma’s house. If you throw into the mix the number of years when one kid or another just happened to be sick on Thanksgiving Day, our track record really sucks. T and I talked about all of these things this morning. He said that while he doesn’t believe in my November superstitions, he’s beginning to wonder if there isn’t some merit to my dislike of November after all. Continue Reading »
Life has changed in unanticipated ways these past two years. Apparently, I don’t do well with change. Wait…I take that back. I welcome change, if that change is for the best. Bring on something good. Bring on something challenging even, and as long as there is a positive goal at the end of hard work, I’m all for it. I am not stuck in my ways. I am not afraid of new things or new experiences. Unfortunately, though, the past two years have been full of changes that have brought loss and pain. The past two years have been, without a doubt, the worst years of my life.
As Thanksgiving approached, I felt myself become happily excited by the thought of having all of the kids home and under one roof for the first time in months. Something strange happened, though. Each time I happily anticipated the days of togetherness, I found myself undermining my happiness. I began to mentally “warn” myself to not expect too much. When I began to picture Hallmark moments, my mind quickly turned those moments into a Lifetime drama. I pictured conflict and moments full of tension. For the first time in my life, I was afraid of having my family gathered together all in one place. I had come to expect loss, pain, failure, and dashed hopes.
To top it all off, and add to my endless stress, I was hosting the Thanksgiving feast for the first time in probably a decade. We were expecting over 20 people for dinner, and somehow in the midst of preparing the food, I had to make arrangements for someone to pick up my mother and bring her to our home. Between cooking, cleaning, and desperately wanting to redecorate the entire house, I worried that something was going to go terrible wrong and ruin the boys’ visit. I wanted so much to have this be an enjoyable, special time for them.
I had taken several days of vacation so that I could be as relaxed as possible in getting everything ready for the boys’ homecoming and Thanksgiving dinner. For the first time in years, I spent time alone in my own house. I puttered around, organized, and cleaned. It was a lovely feeling to get to know my own home again one on one. While I enjoyed my quiet time at home, I also realized once again how lucky I am to have a job that I love so much. I missed the hustle and bustle of the office. I missed the purpose I feel in my workday.
The boys both had midterm exams early on Thanksgiving week. They would both be taking the train home, but would not be coming in at the same time. Andrew’s train was coming in late on Wednesday afternoon. Luke was disappointed that he had a late afternoon exam. He wouldn’t be arriving until 10:00 p.m. That was OK, because his girlfriend was travelling home, too, and her parents were going to pick them both up at the station.
On Tuesday evening, the girls were in bed, and T and I had finally settled down in the living room to relax for a few moments before going to bed. We both perked up when a car pulled into the driveway. We looked out the front window, but didn’t know who it was. T walked to the back door to welcome our guest, but no one came. We rushed back to the front window. Who was it? By now, the girls had come downstairs. All four of us stood looking out the window like a bunch of hillbillies! We saw people milling about the car. It was two men. Finally, the suspense won over, and we opened up the front door (which no one ever uses) and stepped out onto the porch. I’m not sure what we were thinking or assuming, but we just stood there….looking, not making a move toward the driveway. T, the girls, and I just stood there looking out into the darkness. Then, Lola bolted past all of us. “It’s Luke!” she yelled. Hallmark moment number one was watching her fling herself at her big brother. We all ran out. He ran towards us. It was noisy, happy, and full of laughter. Luke had surprised us. He had come home a day early. I called Andrew to tell him, and he said that he could hardly wait to get home. By the next evening, Andrew was home, and my family was all gathered around the table together once again. Happiness. It was real. Even after the past two years of hell, I was feeling crystal clear, pure joy.
Those days when all of the kids were back home were like none other I have experienced as a mother. This visit was different. We all seemed aware that these moments of family togetherness were now a rarity. What was once a common, everyday part of our lives, was no more. Luke lives in Milwaukee. Andrew lives in Chicago. They don’t just go to school in those places. It is where they live. They have signed leases. They won’t be coming back next summer. Home is now a place where they visit. Of course, it is still their “home,” but it is no longer where their lives take place. It’s where their memories are kept. It’s where we gather as a family. Although these facts were not spoken aloud, we all felt the change. A new season, new dynamics, more changes had occurred in our family.
Thanksgiving day was wonderful. I loved cooking, and T was a huge help. I loved having the house full of family. My mother was on good behavior. The kids’ significant others joined for the day, too. Emily’s boyfriend, who is absolutely wonderful, was also home from college. It was his first time meeting the extended family, and as expected, they all loved him, too.
The biggest pleasure of all was the day after Thanksgiving. While many people were hitting the Black Friday sales, we all headed out to the country. Ever since I was a little girl, I have attended “Julmarknad” (Christmas Market) in a tiny village near my town. I was shocked and filled with pleasure when boys both asked if we would still be going this year. We headed out the next day, Christmas music blasting. We feasted on Swedish rye bread and bought candy sticks in the general store. On the way home, we pulled over to the side of the narrow country road to give Emily’s boyfriend, who grew up in a city, a chance to pet a cow. It was a wonderful, wonderful day. Many times that day, I held tight to moments I knew were perfect.
I had not planned any of the kids’ time beyond Thanksgiving dinner. I didn’t expect the boys to hang out at home during their visit. I had expected the usual comings and goings as they visited friends or invited people over. That was fine with me. I knew I would be happy just to visit with them during the times in between. That didn’t happen, though. They didn’t run around very much with friends. They didn’t invite their buddies over. For the most part, they were happy and content to be at home. It was a wonderful surprise. We sat up late and talked. We watched movies. We ate, and we napped. It was truly a wonderful visit. No, it wasn’t a Hallmark movie, but thankfully, it wasn’t a Lifetime drama, either. It was my life, and it was wonderful.
For all sad words of tongue and pen, the are saddest are these, “It might have been.”
~ John Greenleaf Whittier
Most people in my daily life don’t even know that I once had a daughter named Grace. It was a long time ago, and there isn’t really any reason to disclose information that will only serve to make someone uncomfortable. Often, the “face” we present to the world is far different from the person who resides in our hearts.
Thanksgiving is November 24. It’s a day of family celebration. I will celebrate along with those around me. I’ll be thrilled to have all of my kids home and under one roof for several days. What most people won’t know or won’t remember is that November 24th is also Grace’s birthday. It would have been her “golden birthday, 24 on the 24th. I can’t help but think of how things might have been. What an awesome day to have been able to celebrate her birthday. Instead, I will remember alone, and I won’t say a word to anyone. After all, who wants to remember something sad, something that happened so very long ago?
Lately, I have been spending too much time thinking about “what might have been.” I am standing in the present, but too much of the time; my head is turned around looking back at the past. I miss my dad, and it isn’t the same to celebrate Thanksgiving without him. I miss my grandparents during the holiday season, too. And Grace. Thanksgiving will mark the beginning of a time each year when too much of my time is spent remembering and thinking about “what might have been.”
Several years ago, a friend who had lost a child asked me to join her in forming a support group for those who had recently lost babies. It was at a time in my life when I was very happy. I had returned to work. I was moving on and moving forward. I felt sad for this woman. I really did. Her experience had been horrible, but a couple of years had passed since then, and she seemed to still be LIVING for her grief. She wore her baby’s name and birthstone on a necklace around her neck. She set a place at the dinner table for her missing child. While I understood her pain, it made me sad to think of the pain she was causing her children that were THERE. This woman had defined who she was by her grief, and it scared the hell out of me to see that. I had to tell her that I could not help her out with the support group, but I also felt the need to gently explain to her that I while losing a child still hurt; it no longer defined who I was. I offered to help anyone who needed someone to talk to one on one, including her, but I just couldn’t go backwards. I knew that weekly grief meetings would not be something that would help me in healing and continuing to move forward.
What has happened since then? SOMETHING has happened, because I am no longer that strong, positive woman who would not allow her life to be defined by grief. I know from experience that sadness breeds sadness. One sad thought leads to the next sad thought. It becomes a vicious cycle. When it rains, it pours. I believe that! Negativity will only lead to more negativity.
I suppose that by recognizing that I have slipped back to a place that doesn’t feel very good is the first step in pulling myself back up out of the hole. I’m not sure if happiness is necessarily a choice, but I do know that wallowing in self-pity and looking back at “what might have been” is not congruent with moving on and moving forward. Negative thoughts, negative feelings, and negative people all need to be pushed out of my life. While these next few days and weeks will be full of sad reminders, they will also be full of moments full of happiness and joy. Those are the moments that I need to pull in close, and those are the moments that will help me to become someone who I can be proud of once again.
“It takes sadness to know what happiness is, noise to appreciate silence, and absence to value presence.”
Today I caught myself smiling. It was a real and genuine smile, AND…it’s November. I was amazed. As I walked down the hall to a meeting, I was still smiling. Someone passed me, and they smiled back a little curiously. I don’t even know why I was smiling. I’m not sure if I even had a reason. If I had to pick one reason, I would say that I was smiling from relief. Another BAD November anniversary has passed, and it was easy to see how much better my life is right at this moment than it was last year at this time.
For all of us, life has a way of going in a direction of its own choosing. Who among us is exactly where they thought they would be or doing exactly what they had planned? I would venture a guess that there are relatively few of us lucky enough to have life cooperate to such an extent.
“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
~ John Lennon
As for me, I am waking up from a shell-shocked two years of my life. Escaping from the hell of depression is a pretty f-ing happy feeling. That is why I am smiling. YES! I know that there will be more sad times. Depression has a way of wrestling its way back into your life, but TODAY, not today. So I am happy.
I feel a tinge of fear along with this happiness. I am excited to have all of the kids home and under one roof next week for the first time in months. I’m so excited, and so unused to feeling good, that it scares me. I don’t want to jinx this feeling.
I spoke to both boys this week about their travel plans. They both seem excited to be coming home, too. Each of them asked me about a traditional day-trip we take each year on the day after Thanksgiving. “Are we still going to go?” I was taken aback. I didn’t think either of them would want to go this year. They have such a limited amount of time for this visit. I assumed that they would spend Friday catching up with their friends. I felt humbled and honored that they were both saving that day to be together with their crazy, old mom.
Andrew called last night around 10 p.m. He was absolutely beside himself with enthusiasm and excitement. He had just finished his first film shoot where he was head sound guy. He’s involved in making a short ( 10 minute) film on location in Chicago. I’m not sure if I have ever heard such excitement, hope, and joy in his voice. I have never felt such happiness in another person’s joy. I’m praying, keeping my fingers crossed, and sending positive energy that he stays on this path of finding the happiness in his life.
And now the one confession that I have to make. Oh, I wish I would learn to mind my own business, and T is about fit to be tied with me. I sent Katy (Andrew’s beloved ex-girlfriend) an email. All I said was “Hi, Katy. I just wanted to let you know that I was thinking about you and hope things are going well.”
That one email turned into a series of messages. (What did I think would happen???) I caught her up on my family, and she told me what was going on with her sister and parents. Her life hasn’t been easy this past year. Her sister has been sick with a blood disease. Her father (a mortgage broker) fell on hard times due to the downturn in the economy. I think I knew these things from the final months when Andrew and Katy were still together.
What I did not know was that Katy spent all of her remaining college money on her sister’s medical treatments. She is now in her final year of school and has enlisted in the Army. They offered a full scholarship for her remaining education, and she will be going into the service as an engineer. Good for her. What a good sister and daughter! And now the problem… When Katy was in basic training last summer, a congenital heart condition was discovered. (Does everyone I know have one?) Katy will be having heart surgery in December.
The emails between Katy and I were actually quite brief. In no way did we discuss Andrew and Katy’s relationship. I have no idea if there is anyone special in her personal life. I have no idea if she told me about the surgery assuming that I would tell Andrew. I have no idea what to do! T says that I need to say, “Good luck to you and happy holidays.” In other words, he thinks I need to back off and stay out of it. I’m not sure. Like usual, my heart says one thing, and my head says something completely different.
I haven’t said a word to Andrew. I haven’t even mentioned Katy’s name to him. I will take T’s advice and stay out of it. I’m certainly not a matchmaker, and I’m too jaded to believe in the fate of true love. If Katy wants him to know, she will tell him herself. I will back off and wish her well. In my heart, though, I will say a prayer for her, and for them, and for true love.
I hate November. I hate turning that page on my calendar. November scares the hell out of me. Even if everything is going along smoothly in my life, when November comes, I expect the worst. I am waiting for the rug to be pulled out from under me again. I seriously hate November. November is bad luck. In November, my karma is askew. My stars are out of whack. It begins in November, and it lasts clear through until the holidays finally, slowly, painfully come to an end.
It wasn’t always this way. As a kid, I looked forward to Thanksgiving and the Christmas holidays. I loved seeing my grandparents and getting tons of presents. I loved decorating the Christmas tree and baking cookies. I loved it all. Now, I go through the motions. I know what I am supposed to do at this time of year, but my heart isn’t in it.
In 1987, my daughter Grace was born on November 24. She was born too early, just under three pounds. November reminds me of the happy anticipation of that year long ago. The nursery we were setting up, the Thanksgiving plans. That Thanksgiving didn’t happen. We spent that day sitting by our daughter’s bedside as she fought for her life. The crib we had put together days before her birth was sadly taken down weeks later, never used. Continue Reading »