This Thanksgiving we will return to Kansas City as we have for the last ten years. Every time we choose to go “home”, we pass the accident site twice. In fact, we rarely drive north unless we are heading back to see family and friends. The crosses usher in a heighten level of anxiety for the painful moments that are simply unavoidable. And the return trip heralds in memories of where it all went so wrong. To say I need to emotionally prepare myself for these trips is an understatement of gigantic proportions. But staying home – being alone in our unnaturally quiet house – is exponentially worse.
Gratitude and grief co-exist within my heart. Therefore, this year I plan to allow myself permission to do something I’ve never permitted myself to do in the past. If I feel overwhelmed, if the sight of healthy intact families, and bright futures pinch just a bit too much, I will slip off and ensconce myself in the room we make use of when we are in town.
I will not make myself be strong when I feel weak as I have done in seasons past. I will not force myself to wear a mask in order to make others comfortable in my presence. I’ve long been aware that I’m not responsible for how comfortable others feel with my grief, at the same time I’ve always assumed responsibility for shielding others from my emotions, for their sake and mine. Frankly, an open display of my vulnerabilities is abhorrent to me. In the past I’ve felt as if leaving the room was just as bad as crying in public. Doing either draws attention and leads people to talk. Now, I’m just tired. I also realize that it’s not unreasonable or shameful to remove myself from a situation in which I’m uncomfortable. To remain, to pretend good cheer, that’s a burden too great for me to bear and this year – I just don’t have the energy.
Small talk is chief among my personal anxieties. I can talk about Gracen. I can talk about David; but I cannot talk about myself. I have absolutely nothing to share. So if conversation stalls, I will remind myself that I am not individually responsible for keeping the conversational ball in play. If asked questions that are awkward, I will, for the first time ever, say, “This is not a good time to discuss that.” or “I don’t want to talk about that.”
Deflection, a highly valuable social skill, is not one I’ve ever become adept at using. Over the years I’ve been put on the spot and found myself exposing vulnerabilities to family, friends or mere acquaintances to my personal detriment. In the coming weeks I will practice simply not answering a direct question by responding with a question of my own.
Grief is teaching me a world of useful and unexpected lessons and fiction has provided a multitude of examples from which I intend to draw. (I knew I’d eventually uncover a completely reasonable excuse to justify the inordinate amount of reading I indulge in.)
Most importantly, I will remind myself of this truth: Honesty does not require transparency; nor does it require vulnerability. It is my right to choose both when and what I feel comfortable sharing and with whom I wish to be transparent and vulnerable.
I don’t want attention or pity: I want privacy and understanding. I don’t want others evaluating how I’m doing based upon their personal perceptions. If asked, I’ll share what I’m comfortable sharing and hope if others later inquire, that no more than what I’ve shared will be disseminated. Anything more is little more than fodder for gossip.
I will never forget how gutted I felt when I bumped into a friend following the death of my son and she said, ‘I heard you weren’t doing very well.’ What was worse was realizing that the person who reported on my well-being had never asked me how I was doing; they simply watched me and drew their own conclusions. Gossip hurts. While long forgiven, and completely beyond my control, I remain hypersensitive to how I am portrayed to others. It’s my reputation and it’s my heart that suffers for idle words spoken.
While the things above may seem simple to many, they are challenging for me. So this year, I will keep the commitments I’ve made to myself and will do my best to let go of the things I can’t control. There is grace and forgiveness for those things.
Of the many things for which I’m thankful – the blessings among the thorns, I’m most grateful that I still have David and Gracen. However, I dread that moment that often occurs at Thanksgiving gatherings when asked to share that for which we are thankful. To express my thanks for my husband and daughter draws attention to those who are missing. It’s awkward – for me and for everyone else. While grief may overshadow my gratitude, that doesn’t mean I don’t recognize and appreciate my blessings. So this year, I will give thanks, but I might not have a happy Thanksgiving. Contrary to what the Veggie Tales teach, a grateful heart is not always a happy heart; and that’s OK, gratitude is sufficient.