Only a month after Daniel’s death, Thanksgiving arrived, full of symbols of plentiful harvest and thankfulness, while we felt bereft of everything. We fled to Maryland. There, among the many around my sister’s table, Daniel’s empty place stood out less starkly than at home. Love and family pressed around to hold back despair and the loneliness. Though we could not feel the spirit of Thanksgiving, we did appreciate the support and caring of our family. We marveled that any positive feelings were able to emerge.
Upon our return to New Jersey, we were greeted by a neighbor flushed with surprise and excitement. During our absence, Daniel’s dog, Puffy, had given birth to three puppies – in her powder room! Our caring neighbor had served as midwife throughout the night of their birth, alternately crying for the loss of Daniel and laughing with the joy of new life.
That Thanksgiving, eleven years ago, held many special messages for us: messages of love, family, neighbors, and giving. Greatest of all was the message of life. Though we went away, we could not flee the holiday nor the pain of separation; we could not run from life. It was waiting for us at my sister’s. It was waiting for us upon our return.
Yet, a long time passed before we could accept living again. Puffy’s puppies, however, were the beginning. As they nibbled our fingers or wet the carpet, they caused us to care about them and their antics. Their damp noses and velvet ears helped us to feel something beyond the pain of Daniel’s death. When they grew up, they forced us to interact with the community through searching for their adoptive families. We also practiced letting go as each puppy left.
For us, holidays are again happy occasions for the same reason they were originally difficult. Holidays are days set aside for love, togetherness, sharing, and families.
The death of a child turns those wonderful aspects of holidays into pain.
What we discovered that Thanksgiving long ago is that even with the pain comes the beginning of healing from the love, togetherness, sharing, and families that holidays include.
So, change your routine or surroundings this Thanksgiving, but do not try to flee from life. Life is the pathway to recovery. Allow yourself the reassurance of feeling life’s healing power this holiday.
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