autumn days

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Giving Thanks in New Ways

I've heard all my life that holidays are rough for those experiencing loss.  I finally know what that really means.  My partner died of cancer three weeks before Thanksgiving.  Our extended family joined us for this day, making for a lively party of 22 beautiful people.  I love the preparation, the baking, the expectation of a crowded, lively home.  I love knowing my children will soon be galavanting with six cousins (in contrast to my isolated childhood).  All was well on this day, even when my son and daughter made the chocolate chip cookies their dad usually made.  When a cousin arrived with mashed potatoes that my partner carefully crafted each year, that was hard.  When I filled in his absence by taking on his role of making sure every guest had a drink and a plate, that was hard.  When I sat alone with the mashed potato-making cousin, I finally cried.  "I don't miss all the things my partner did for us.  I don't miss how hard he worked for us.  I miss him.  I miss his skin, his touch, his voice, his face.  I miss his presence.  I miss him."

My partner's brother has taken on the tasks of the family business.  As part of the transition, he brought us one framed photograph from my partner's office.  After our shared meal, he presented me with the beautiful photograph I had chosen and placed on my partner's desk seven years ago.  In it, my daughter is looking up at me, beaming her delight, sitting upon her daddy's belly on a hammock on a warm summer day.  She was her daddy's universe, his only child.  It was his birthday week, two weeks before his mother would die after a fall.  Our world was more whole than it is now.  Our home was the life of our world, full of my partner, his beloved mother, our miraculous child.  I love this photograph and how it represents a fullness and a blossoming of family.  Now, instead of a family of five, my home shelters our three children and me.  I am the only original owner of our home that is still here with my daughter.  I spent a minute gazing at this photo, feeling the wholeness that used to be here.  Contrasting that with what dwells here in its place.  I set it down on the counter for others to see and quietly left the room.  I looked out the window at the dark mountain that will one day soon be full of hundreds of houses' lights.  And I cried again.  I cry to release the sadness, to feel the rawness of losing the love of my life to a devastating disease, for watching him slowly transform, suffer deeply, and die, leaving me a single mother for our extraordinary children.

I miss him.  I miss us.  I miss holding his hand and hearing his voice, watching him whip creamy purple mashed potatoes (from purple potatoes I've grown in the garden), laugh with our guests, and wash loads of dishes between loading his own plate.  I miss watching him play with his children that he waited all his life for, cherishing them as the brightest lights and joys of his life.  I miss the jokes that I often didn't find funny.  I miss how he decorated our home for Christmas, the only holiday I didn't decorate for.  I miss him.  Deeply.  Fully.  Devastatingly.

In these days of fresh loss, a mixed tape of memories (as my brother-in-law so eloquently described it) flood my mind.  I see my partner in all the places and grooves of his life, in the choices and roles that became routine in the last 18 years we spent creating this amazing life together.  Now I fully understand why holidays are harder than other days.  In the holidays, we have created a certain rhythm and routine that sits apart from the average day.  I am thankful for this deeper understanding, this deeper compassion.  I am thankful my children have me in their lives to cherish them.  It is a job for more than one person.  I am thankful for the privilege of hosting our party of 22 beautiful humans.  I am thankful for the infinite blessings in our lives.  I am thankful for the ability to process these feelings of loss so deeply.  I am thankful to share my grieving process with my children, to model healthy ways to release emotions.  I am thankful to know this loss will eventually grow lighter instead of heavier with each day.  I am thankful to hold these children, to remind them of the beauty of their daddy and how deeply he cherished them, how they provided him with strength to step boldly into every treatment in the hopes of extending his life.  I am thankful to know for myself that it is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.  It is because I have chosen to love that my life is what it is and continues to grow in new ways.  I am thankful for his life.  I am thankful for finding a medium (here) to share my processing in the middle of the night as my children slumber (in my full bed).  I am thankful for trusting this writing is larger than myself.  I am thankful to know one day these words will help my children in their own healing processes.  I am thankful for this life I get to share with my children and the other humans in my world.  Moving through many other emotions, I am thankful to return often to gratitude.  Intentional, focused gratitude.  An overflowing, yet sore, heart.  I am thankful.  I am blessed. 

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