Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Offering Thanks Through Sorrow

Everyone keeps asking what my family is doing for Thanksgiving.  Are you going anywhere?  How many family members are gathering together?  How big is the turkey? How many desserts will there be?

I fumble over myself, almost embarrassed to explain that there won't be a grand Thanksgiving dinner spread across my mahogany stained table.  Yes, there will be turkey, but cold and tucked inside dinner rolls as sandwiches.  There will be no labor-intensive pans of dressing or overflowing bowls of mashed potatoes filling the house with nostalgic aromas of Thanksgivings gone by, no cranberry sauce made from scratch.  Instead, there will be a salad of fresh lettuce straight from the garden and who knows what else.

My head unconsciously ducks as I reveal the reason for our simple meal. "We're going to have a picnic at Percy Quinn, a state park a little over an hour from here."

My listeners shake their heads politely.  Some express surprise; others change the subject to what they are doing instead.  All have plans far more intricate than mine.

Our family did this once before when I was in college--taking off for a State park.

Last weekend, my mother stated she just was too tired for Thanksgiving this year.  Her shoulders sagged a bit with the telling.  In the long pause, I read more than her words said.  Her son, my brother, and his wife won't be here.  Her daddy is no longer with us.

In short, there is no need for the large meal when our family is planted around the country, unable to come together until the end of the year.  And yes, there still is the tiredness

I understand where it comes from.  I feel it, too.  More emotional than physical, it still feels like both. And so we agree to go back to the park, to revisit this memory of simplicity.

For our family, the months of November and December are like the pendulum of a grandfather clock, swinging wide and high to sadness, then seeming to pause there before barreling down the arc and up again to the other side towards joy before pausing again and repeating itself.

This cycle of contradicting emotions defines the Thanksgiving / Christmas season.

With my brother and his wife along with me and husband celebrating our wedding anniversaries during these months; with the pausing to give thanks for the year's many blessings and the birthday of our Lord Jesus--it is a most celebrated, joyful time that our home looks forward to with great anticipation.

Yet, it is also the most painful time of year.  Just five years ago this November, our family's patriarch, my Grandfather, died.  Last December, my husband's Maw Maw left us to spend Christmas in heaven.

And yesterday, we buried my husband's Aunt Lisa--a beloved aunt, mother, sister, and friend.
Although this is my husband's blood, since my adoption into the family by marriage twelve years ago, it is mine, too.  It is my children's blood.  And so, I grieve with heavy heart.

My sorrow is not so deep for her who is no longer bound fast by strong cords of physical suffering but for her two still-young daughters, for her husband now left alone.

The oldest daughter just slipped a wedding ring on her hand less than a month ago.  We celebrated together at that wedding, another mixture of joy and sadness in this season.  It is a blessing she has a help meet.  It is the youngest I worry about the most, the one who has yet to really find her way in life, is still a free spirit searching for a place to land.

But even through this sadness, I listened yesterday as family around the tables circles round and voiced audible thanks--for happy memories, for each other, for those little mementos of a young mother's love of her daughters yet left behind.

Funerals are a paradox like that--sounds of weeping and laughter, heart's pain at the separation from the one beneath the flowers mixed with heart's joy from the knitting together with those left behind.

This is the only way to truly live.  We allow our hearts to open to those around us by embracing the living and those still alive in our hearts. Then, there is never a time when there is nothing to be grateful for.

Only with tender hearts can we give thanks.


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