Tuesday, November 24, 2009

On Giving Thanks

It is not very often one can say on this Widowed Road that they have been fortunate. Or maybe it is, but is just too hard for us to see when we are mired in our grief. But if I had to identify one area in which I had been fortunate regarding my wife’s death, it would be that she died in the late winter, which meant that I had a good nine months of active grieving before I had to face the dreaded holidays.

Thanksgiving has never been my favorite holiday. Don’t get me wrong, I love the food, the time with family (when possible), and everything it stands for. But for me it has always been overshadowed by holidays like Christmas and Easter, for reasons which I will likely delve into when those holidays come around again. One thing that I have always dreaded, at least when I lived at or near home, was the obligatory “what are you thankful for” session around the Thanksgiving table (sorry G). I dread it all the more now, though I have not spent Thanksgiving with my side of the family since the last one with my wife in November, 2006.

It can be hard as widow/ers to be mindful of the positive things in our “new” lives. How can we possibly be thankful for anything when everything we’ve ever lived for is suddenly gone? It’s a hard question, and one that is not easily answered. Nor is the answer the same for any of us. But I suspect that over the next week or so there will be many posts in the blogs listed at the right of the screen which deal with this topic on some level. And I suspect most, if not all, will contain some level of gratitude, even amidst our given circumstances.

The first Thanksgiving without my wife was spent as planned prior to her death, with her family in a state adjacent to my own. It has become an unspoken tradition that we meet there every other year when her sister has her children for the holiday. It’s a time I always look forward to, but one that was incredibly difficult that year, nonetheless. Thinking about it now, though, I cannot convey just how difficult it was. This is one of the many times I wish I had been able to write during the multitude of firsts. Sadly, unlike many of you who have or are about to experience them, I have no written record of those times and can only rely upon my memory, which is unreliable at best. But what I do remember is that we all cried a lot and laughed a bit, and ultimately made it through.

Last year was an off-year as far as that unwritten tradition is concerned, and as it is too far to travel to my original home state in the Midwest, we relied upon our surrogate family here to take us in. On Thanksgiving Day last year, we woke up in our own beds and watched the parade in our own living room. Late in the morning we drove to the home of our friend’s parents and spent a lovely fall afternoon. The weather is more temperate here this time of year, so the kids were able to play outside and even jump in great piles of leaves without much fear of illness settling in. We stayed through dinner time, then headed back to our house and watched specials on tv together. I was still not able to write then, but my recent memory serves me a bit better than my distant memory does.

And so arrives this Thanksgiving. In staying true to the pattern, we will again head to that adjacent state in the morning, fighting what I am sure will be all manner of angry drivers and impatient travelers along the way. My daughter, for what I believe to be the first time ever, told me this morning that she is not looking forward to the traveling part this time. Or maybe it’s just my frustration level during the journey that she’d rather avoid. But I digress.

I can’t really say that I’m much in the mood for the holidays yet this year. The time off work – absolutely. I’ve been looking forward to that for weeks. But so far I just haven’t been able to get excited about the actual celebrating of the holidays. However, in preparation for said holidays and the composing of this post, I have once again been reminded that I have plenty for which to be thankful.

Like my beautiful, precocious little girl, who still looks and acts a lot like me, but has those blue eyes and sweet disposition that drew me to her mother all those years ago. Despite her ear surgeries over the summer, she is a healthy child. And since health is something her mother battled with for most of her short adult life, I am certain that she too would be grateful that our daughter has been in such good health these past few years as well. She is doing well in school, both academically (like me) and socially (like her mommy). And she has handled life after her mother’s death with a grace and poise that is well beyond her five years. Though I always dreamed of having a large family, I have been given more in my one child than I would have ever thought possible.

Though we are physically isolated from our families much of the year, we make every effort to see each other when we can. Both families. And that is another thing for which I am thankful. I come from an average-sized, though anything-but-average family. Love was always a part of our home growing up, and though at times our differences have caused that love for one another to be much less evident as adults, I am confident it is still present. And I married into a family that was very similar to my own in that regard. My wife grew up in a loving home, which I was welcomed into with open arms. And as you can tell from the preceding paragraphs, that love was not cut off after she died. In reading blogs of other widow/ers, I am constantly made aware of how blessed I am not only to have my own family, but to have my wife’s as well.

There is also, of course, the laundry list of other things as well. I have a good job, which to this point has been safe from the spiraling economy. I am in relatively good health myself. I have good friends and acquaintances. I can afford to pay my bills and still have some left over to go out to eat and take trips to see family. I’m even starting to come out of that six-month state of lethargy I wrote about here (see photo above for the completed version of the photo at the top of that post). And now I have an ever-growing support network in a place I never thought I’d find it – the internet.

Lots of blessings.

Lots of things for which to give thanks.

But perhaps the thing for which I am the most grateful, is that over the past two years and nine months, I have not once had to worry about or question where my wife resides now. She had an unshakeable faith in Christ and I have no doubt that she is with Him now. This knowledge has done little in the way of taking the sting out of everyday life on earth without her, but over time I think it has helped me become more accepting of her death. Now I’d be lying if I said my own faith hasn’t wavered greatly since then, but at times, it has also been the only thing that has sustained me.

So yes, I have a lot to be thankful for. And as cliché as it may seem, I am putting it here for you to see as Thanksgiving approaches and ultimately passes us by. But I’d like to leave you with this: As you celebrate this holiday with family or friends, please be reminded of those of us who are celebrating it with one less chair around the table. Especially those like Dan and Woman N Shadows, who are doing so for the very first time. If you are a praying person, please say a prayer for us as well.

And if you are fortunate enough to be celebrating with your husband or wife, hug them a bit tighter for those of us who can no longer hug ours at all.


  1. I have to say that I'm thankful for my relationship with my parents which only improved after Mike died. At the time we were together, I was still experiencing a lot of growing pains with my parents and I didnt treat them all that well. I think that the double-edged sword of Mike's death is that it showed me that my own blood kin were the only people who really cared about my wellfare as a person (other than Mike). I learned that I should never blindly put my faith in people and I've learned to become a better evaluator of friends and acquaintances... I've learned that people have to earn your trust, you cant just give it to them.

    It sounds kind of negative, I guess, the way I say it. It's no secret on my blog that there is no love lost between me and my in-laws. And that's a shame. I'm not saying all in-laws or bad; I just had a bad set and I was "betrayed" which was the bad fall out of Mike's death.

    But the good thing is, my parents came up to the plate and I realized that I'd been a snotty little teenager past my teenage years... and now I appreciate my parents. I no longer blame them for my faults but find the parts within myself that cause the faults I want to blame on others.

    It's been a long road. Unfortunately, I think Mike's death has taught me greater appreciation for life and better empathy for others. It also taught me how to be a little tougher with my feelings. I still havent figured out if that part is good or bad, though.

  2. as always, your words are profound. your love for your daughter and intuitiveness for her moods and feelings is a blessing to the both of you. she is very lucky to have you in some may ways. i am glad you have had the blessings of good relationships with your parents and your in-laws. the comfort of an actively involved extended family should bring a great deal of peace to both you and your daughter.

    my daughter was 11 when she asked what would happen to her and her brother should anything happen to me. it was like a fist had reached inside and gripped my heart. she didn't think her fraternal grandparents would be there. and sad to say, she would have been right. my own parents had died long ago by then so there really was no one for me to trust.

    but we're both blessed. you have family. my children are grown. i made it. now if only my Dragon had made it, well, "if wishes were horses...."

    have a peace-filled Thanksgiving. drive carefully. sing in the car. go tot he book store and purchase a tape of the storyteller Odds Bodkin and listen to him while driving. great voice. wonderful stories. my children loved him. met him once at a book store. lovely man.

  3. sorry. i meant to type your daughter is very lucky to have you in so MANY ways. i hate when i hurry and don't proof. =0}

  4. That was a really inspiring post for me. Being British, I don't celebrate Thanksgiving, so I am actually really grateful that I don't, because it's one less "memorable date" in my calendar to endure.

    Thank you for your honesty too. I think our blogs can be fairly painful to read (if you have not lost a spouse) but it is important for us to say it how it is because it helps us to heal slowly.

    I decided to incorporate thanksgiving into my life over the past week, and it has grounded me to think about what I have to be grateful for: Cliff's love, family, friends, work, a roof over my head, quite a long list really.

    I hold you in my heart tomorrow, and hope that the day is not too painful for you, that there will be laughter as well as tears for you. Hug your little girl close <3

  5. Thank you for the extra send out to those of us heading into our first holiday's without our loved one. This is mine. Though, we had our Thanksgiving last month as we live in Canada. . .

    I am not looking forward to Christmas at all. If I didn't have my little girls I'm quite certain I would go to bed on Dec 23rd and wake up on Jan 3rd (New Years is the anniversary that we met 14yrs ago - it will be my first without him in as many years). I really don't know what to expect or what to do. I want to honor the holiday for my girls, but it's tough when all my recent Christmas memories involve watching my husband putting up lights, cutting down the tree and putting it up, cooking amazing food, etc. etc. etc.

    I hope all goes well for your Thanksgiving road trip, and for the rest of the journey ahead.


  6. Thanks for sending support my way. I want you to know that it is truly appreciated. I find that many people are uncomfortable stepping forward like you do, for various reasons.

    I greatly benefit from reading posts like yours, as I need to see how others feel, and progress with time. Because all of this is still so new to me, only two months, I continue to be in a state of shock.

    When Michael died, and I became a widower, I knew that I was going to go through a bit of a baptism by fire. A month later was our first wedding anniversary, this month Thanksgiving, next month Christmas, then January holds Michael's birthday. I'm going to culminate all of this at the end of January with a short memorial camping trip with Michael's friends from his peace corp days.

    I also want to tell you that I read many of your prior posts, and can see how much thought you put into parenting your daughter. It is something beautiful. I know that the day to day of it all is challenging, but you are doing such a great job. I hope your wife is able to somehow see this.

    I also want to commend you regarding your commitment to children in foster care, and with adoption organizations. I am a social worker, and have worked in Child Welfare for over 20 years. I was first a foster parent to each of my three children, and eventually was able to legally adopt them. I think as a society we need to collectively find ways to contribute to the care all these children who need.

    I'm rambling, but my first public declaration of thanksgiving goes to you and your blog. I also want to thank your wife, as clearly her love for you, and your daughter, has imprinted you with great compassion.


  7. Great Blog! You are a credit to the blogging community. I have added you to my blogroll, “Cancer Blogs” with over 640 other cancer blogs at www.beingcancer.net, a cancer networking site featuring a cancer book club, guest blogs, cancer resources, reviews and more.
    If you have not visited in a while, please stop by. If you agree that the site is a worthwhile resource for those affected by cancer, please consider adding Being Cancer to your own blogroll. And like bloggers everywhere, I love receiving your comments and ideas.
    Your blog is listed in the Widows/widowers section.
    Take care, Dennis

  8. I hope you and yours had a peaceful and happy Thanksgiving.

  9. Mars Girl - I think it is important for us to focus on whatever good has come out of death, and I'm glad to see you voicing that here. As hard as it can be, it is both necessary and healthy. Thanks, as always, for sharing.

    wNs - It has been a wonderful blessing to have had such good relationships with both my parents and my in-laws. Someone mentioned recently that it was good that I "stayed in touch with them". Lucky for me, it never occured to me not to! We had a most enjoyable time in the mountains, but I didn't get your message about Odds Bodkin till we were already on the road. Perhaps another time...

    Boo - It is amazing to me what all I have to be thankful for. I have always been able to see it, even much sooner after my wife's death than I would have thought, but I am not always adept at voicing it. I am glad that you are reminding yourself of your blessings as well, even without a having specific holiday for it.

    letterstoelias - The first holidays are always hard, but are not necessarily the hardest. It's another one of those grief-things that varies from person to person. This will be our third Christmas since my wife's death and for each one we have continued our traditions just as we would have if she were still here with us. That's what works for us. My advice to you would be to do what you believe is best, even if others try to persuade you to do otherwise. You will know what is best for you and your girls.

    Dan - Thank you. For the first couple of years following my wife's death, it was very hard to find blogs by widow/ers. There were a few out there, but not many and they were impossible to find. That's the main reason I started this blog. I wanted to be a source of support for people, whether I ever knew they were reading or not. The one thing most widow/ers seem to have in common is that we all just want to know that we are not alone in this.

    And as far as reaching out goes, it has been my pleasure getting to "know" you through your blog. I think the world would be a better place if we spent as much time focusing on our similarities as we did our differences.

    Dennis - Thanks for stopping by and adding me to your blog roll. I did want to mention that my wife did not have or die from cancer, but I am honored to have been listed on your site. I have not had a chance to check it out as yet, but I will do so.

    Who's that Girl - Thanks. We did. I hope you did as well.