Well, this will be our eighth Thanksgiving without my brother, and I just really can’t believe it’s been that long! Have we really gathered together over eight different turkeys…watched eight seasons of holiday football…braved eight Black Fridays of shopping nonsense since he left this Earth? I remember when I was counting moments and then mere hours, waiting for the agonizing grief to subside. Somewhere along that timeline, the hours stretched to days, then months… and apparently, now years. How does that happen?
Eight years seems like so long ago and yet, it seems like only yesterday. Part of me feels guilty for not outwardly grieving every single day since he died. When did I stop crying at simple memories? When did I stop working his name into every conversation? When did I stop visiting the cemetery more often than I went out with friends? Where, exactly, did my healing begin? I think I missed it.
And for that, I’m thankful. I might have stifled the process, had I realized what was happening.
I remember all the well-intentioned advice from the funeral services. We’ve all heard the lines… and maybe even said them ourselves. Before we experienced our own losses, anyway. “God has a plan.” “It was just his time.” “Eat something… you’ll feel better.” “Don’t cry.” Which was followed by, “Cry… it will make you feel better.” It’s ironic that everyone seems to have the answers at funerals… except for those who desperately need them. Back then, my questions far outnumbered any answers.
I’m thankful for that, too. I might not have taken the time to search within myself otherwise.
So much has changed in the disappearing years. His children are taller than me now, with ever-emerging character traits that remind me of their dad. The physical: The shape of their hands, their profiles, their mannerisms. The personality: their sense of humor, their intensity, their stoicism. Their mom has a wonderful man in her life now, and that means the kids have a second dad.
For that, I’m thankful, as well. It means that they are loved.
Three weeks ago, they all moved to a sunnier locale 1000 miles away. And this will be our first Thanksgiving without them, thus beginning a new round of grief. Different than that of death, I suppose, but grief, nonetheless. The emotions have run the gamut in recent weeks. I miss them all already and cannot imagine what the holiday will be without them here.
And yes, even in my sadness, I’m also thankful for that, for I have learned that joy can indeed coexist with heartache. I still don’t have the answers, but I know that healing and happiness are walking hand-in-hand just around the corner.
So here’s to my sister-in-law, Dawn: Thanks for being such an amazing mom to my brother’s children. Thanks for sharing them with us and for daring to love again. You are an inspiration.
And here’s to my brother, Michael: Thanks for believing in a cause greater than the rest of us. Thank you for the freedom to utter my thanks. You will always be in my heart and on my mind even when the tears are not streaming. Thanks… for the giving.