Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post a reflection on grief as I continue to explore its landscape and listen to you. In the sharing of our stories with each other, we find encouragement and build a community of support.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Grateful At the Table

On Thanksgiving we gather at many tables, some with family, some with friends. This holiday can be brutal on those who grieve because it insists that we be thankful, and on the first Thanksgiving after, all we may be able to feel is what we’ve lost.

Years ago, on the first Thanksgiving seven months after my wife died, her loss was too fresh for me to be thankful. Every night I felt like holing up in a dark bar, drinking beer after beer, and listening to Billy Joel, Billie Holiday, and melancholy saxophones late into the night until grief was numb and I could safely go home. We were young, and many of my friends expected me to recover in a month. I spent much of that first year outdoors, away from people, listening to the wisdom of nature.

The traditional things we celebrate on Thanksgiving are food, family, and home. If we haven’t recovered our interest in food, and making traditional holiday dishes takes too much work, this option is out. Family means the people we gather with, but if they are tired of hearing about grief, then we may have little to talk about and sit on the side of their conversations. And if we always spent Thanksgiving at home with the one who died, then anything we do on this day is going to be a dirge.

Our lives do not end with someone’s death, even though it feels this way for a long time. One thing we can be grateful for are the people who have stuck by us, sending notes, bringing food over, and offering to go shopping. It may be only one or two who understand that they can’t take the pain away, and that grief takes time. 

You don’t have to be traditional this year. Do something else. Do what you feel like doing. Find something you enjoy. Go out for ice cream. See a movie. Walk around the neighborhood. Eat ethnic food instead of turkey. Honor your memories, but find something that makes you smile, even if it’s just for an hour. Maybe it’s a really good latte. Maybe it’s watching squirrels chase each other through the woods.

The following was inspired by a writing of Jahana, a member of my grief community.

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We come to the table where every broken heart has a place. We pass love from hand to hand, share our stories of being shattered, lost, lifted by the compassion of others. We talk of the stillness of our days and the dissolution of dreams in the long, drifting night.

We come to the table to nourish one another and feast on love. We have had our fill of death. Body of life broken. Blood of life spilled. The joy we knew extinguished. We share what we have with each other, weep by the rivers of Babylon because we remember the terrible, sad, beauty of love. In holy giving and receiving, we bear witness to the communion of all who grieve.

We come to the table to say to each other in the midst of despair there is hope. We come to affirm that as we share where we are broken, grace is present. We come to give each other courage for the hard journey that lies ahead.

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