Updated: Nov 26, 2020
You might think, “Holidays are not lost; they’ll roll around right when they’re supposed to, just like they do every year.”
Yeah, like a steamroller.
Rod died seven days before Thanksgiving and 19 days before we were supposed to leave on a mission trip to Israel, both of which we talked about in the hospital just two days before he died. We were more focused on the trip; Thanksgiving was a known quantity.
On a typical Thanksgiving Day, I’d get up in time to watch the Macy’s parade; then I’d go get the turkey in the oven and Rod would find his first football game of the day. At some point during the day the kids would arrive, bringing their favorite foods to contribute to the feast. At dinner time, we’d all sit around the table and eat, laugh, and talk - together. Every year had its nuances, but this was the basic blueprint. We expected this year to be pretty much the same, understanding that Rod may miss some of it (he slept a lot more by then), and someone else would have to carve the turkey.
But the trip required a bit more discussion and planning. Because of his cancer, his doctors needed to be included in the conversation. We talked to our trip leaders to make sure they were aware of our situation. Everyone was on the same page, and we were good to go.
Later that afternoon, they moved him to ICU because of internal bleeding. Two days later, they moved him out of ICU to the cancer floor of the hospital, where he died that night. In the days following, there was a whole different set of conversations to be had with an entirely different set of people about a different set of plans.
Wait … what?
What happened to making plans for Thanksgiving dinner? Suddenly it didn’t matter whether or not our turkey was out of the freezer to thaw … or if I had purchased one yet.
We weren’t talking about what time the kids would be over and what dish they’d be bringing. We were instead figuring out sleeping arrangements for out-of-town family who’d be flying in to say their good-byes. We were having conversations with funeral home directors, facility managers, and our church staff as we planned for Rod’s service. We decided to have the burial and memorial service two days before Thanksgiving (since I was leaving just five days after). People began arriving over the weekend, and most of our guests left sometime on Wednesday.
By that time, I was thinking Oh, crap. Thanksgiving. Is that still happening? Guess I should think about it, now that it’s tomorrow.
The whole week from Rod’s death until Thanksgiving day, my church family was amazing. Food, paper goods - including toilet paper - and other necessities just showed up. And on Thanksgiving, a whole cooked and ready to eat spread was brought to us.
I don’t remember much from that first Thanksgiving day without Rod. What I remember is the non-day that was the day after he died. I remember the surrealness of sitting in a funeral home (instead of out shopping for yummy foods) trying to remember all his info for the death certificate, and grabbing my phone to text him the questions I wasn’t sure about. I remember the swirling in my head, and all the decisions that needed to be made. So many decisions. And I remember my friend who sat there with me through all the conversations, holding my hand and handing me tissues.
Thanksgiving became part of these events.
For the next few years, ‘Thanksgiving’ would begin for me on Nov 17th when I sat up all night, listening to him breathe after he fell in the bathroom and hit his head. It gets going the morning of the 18th when the paramedics came to the house and brought him to the hospital because he threw up what looked like coffee grounds. It continued as he was transferred to the ICU on the 20th because they couldn’t stop the internal bleeding, and it reached its apex at 11:45 pm on the 22nd with his death.
Everything that used to be Thanksgiving - the parade, the sound of football games, the meal, everything about it - became an afterthought tacked on the the events of 2013. Thanksgiving was no longer November’s main event as the day set aside to give thanks and eat turkey, or even the day when everybody was in the same place at the same time, because we were not 'everybody' any more. In the wider world, Thanksgiving still kicked off the Christmas season, but for me, it came with a wish for a pass - a rock to hide under until the new year arrived.
Thanksgiving as I knew it is gone. I will never recover the loss of our Thanksgiving tradition, and there will always be a hole where it used to be. It’s taken a number of years to untangle all of this - to let Thanksgiving be its own thing again and to find reasons to give thanks in it. But it necessarily looks different now. Not only different than before, but also different from year to year. I may come upon a new Thanksgiving tradition of my own, but until then, I’m ok with however it ends up ... this year.