This year was a milestone for me—I turned 60 and it was the first birthday that my mother was not able to celebrate with me, call me, or sign her name with my father’s to my card. When she passed away in late summer of 2017, I had no idea of how her passing would change me. I learned very quickly it was a hurt for which I had no words or experience.
I was excited about my 60th birthday and had planned a party (theme: Honey, I’m Grown) months in advance. As the June date drew nearer, I became apprehensive about how I would feel on that day, and wondered if in the middle of the celebration, I would realize that it was not a good idea. But that didn’t happen. Yes, we missed my mother and there was a quiet moment when I could feel the memory of her fill the room and touch all of us. In the middle of that silence, the lesson my mother taught us came rushing back to fill the void.
Take care of each other.That was her constant reminder, years before she passed on. My mother and father raised us to look out for each other, and over the past year whenever I have needed someone to talk to, my family has been here. When the words were too much to say out loud, I spoke to God and found constant comfort in Him. Friends supported me, holding me up when I was overwhelmed.
With the veil of loss hanging over the year, there were periods when I felt like nothing would ever return to normal. I knew I would feel happiness again, not because I believed it at the time, but because so many gathered around me to share their own stories of survival after loss. There were days when all I could count on was if someone else got through it, then I would too. What I finally realized is that grief is not something you get through, it is something you go through, like a long tunnel, with a light that flickers far in the distance, but never diminishes completely.
My birthday party was fun—my oldest granddaughter sang three songs at my request, and even told me she had a fourth song ready, which she could sing back at the house when we cut the birthday cake. Mind you, she is only four years old, but she loves to sing, has an excellent memory, and gave me a performance I will never forget. My mother would have been tickled. Everything I have, all you’ve given me, I give it to you Lord, and do it thankfully, thankfully. As she sang these words I was reminded that God wants to be part of all we go through, and is present through all of it, guiding us, comforting us. I could be thankful even in the midst of grief.
I could go on about the other things that happened this year—the travel to states I had not visited before, plays and musicals I loved, books I read, words I have written. Other experiences left me shaken and sad—the death of a friend that came unexpectedly, sending me back into grief and reminding me of my mother, a frightening bout of dehydration on a summer day when all I wanted to do was work in the yard and dig up plants, the loss of another friend, and the unrelenting political news that seldom had a positive message.
I guess what I am full of these days is gratitude. Gratitude because my mother was part of my earthly life and her spirit is still present. Gratitude for the hospice counselor and a dear friend who helped me understand the source of the grief that caused me despair nearly every day around the same time. They explained that my body has memory, and it had come to expect the late afternoon talks with my mother, even though the phone was not going to ring. Gratitude for the holidays that passed, Thanksgiving and Christmas, birthdays, my mother’s birthday, my own, that they would not make me as miserable as I feared they would. Gratitude for hands held when one of us needed reassurance and consolation. Gratitude for finally understanding if people were sad (and we were) I could not control their emotions any more than I could control my own. Gratitude because there has always been someone to talk to when I needed to voice my hurt or joy.
As this year’s holidays approach, I don’t have nearly as much fear as I did this time last year. Last year I dreaded the possible torrent of tears that might come as my family tried to get through them without my mother. What I know now is there is no predicting when sadness creeps in, or when a day is so inexplicably joy-filled it catches you by surprise. I am not in control. I am grateful—grief may never completely leave me, but I am resilient, and love abounds. I needed to learn this and there have been many other lessons from this past year. I am happy. I can sit with sadness and not be overwhelmed. I can accept that I need to pull back and do less. I can walk with joy and not feel guilty. This is what I am thankful for this Thanksgiving—in spite of everything I have been through, love abounds.
I hope you are able to find joy and gratitude this Thanksgiving Day.