Happy Thanksgiving, American friends!
Yesterday I was speaking to a co-worker whose mom passed from cancer a couple of months ago. She’s trying to wrap her head and her heart around her first holiday without her mother, and I remember that sadness and confusion well, after my dad died in 2012. He passed on November 14th, and a week later, my mom and I were alone for Thanksgiving. It was weird and it was hard that year, and for a while after, but it has stopped being weird or hard 6 years later, and I didn’t really realize that had happened until I was talking to Amy about her mom yesterday.
It happened while I wasn’t paying attention, I guess. While I was just living and getting through the days. In fact, the anniversary of his death snuck up on me this year, too. Suddenly it was November 14th and I had the thought a couple of times in the morning that the date was somehow significant – someone’s birthday, maybe? – but it didn’t really register with me until later in the day:
Ah, that was the day my father left this earth.
I had a fleeting feeling of guilt that I’d forgotten, but then I saw it in a different light: I’m living in the here and now and that’s a good thing. I’m present to my life these days, no longer dredging up the past and the Litany of Loss periodically and plunging into depression as I once did. I simply don’t have time. I miss my dad, my Nana, lots of friends, pets, even some of my younger selves, but I don’t have the luxury of wallowing in loss anymore, and I’m lucky that my brain seems to be onboard the wellness train now thanks to medication and therapy years ago, and meditation recently, so it doesn’t go there as often on its own anymore, either.
I can control what I think about for the most part, and lately I try to think about what’s right in front of me. Right now. What needs to be done? Which thing on the list of things to do at home and at work needs my attention this minute? How are the people I care about in my life right now? I don’t think so much about what (or whom) I’ve lost. I think about all that I have. Not all the time, but as much as possible, and certainly more than in the past. I try not to think about what (or who) is not present in my life right now, and focus on what and who is and what I can do for them and for myself to make things a little better.
My Litany of Loss is long. So is yours. Human life is HARD, and our emotional and mental wellbeing ultimately comes down to how well we process and carry those losses: whether we go forward, slowly at first, but always gaining ground, until at last, some of our burdens can be safely left behind, or we are so weighed down by them that we can’t go on and life in the present seems impossible.
As we age, those losses mount up, and that burden is too much to bear unless you set some (or all) of it down. I remember lots of things about my dad – good things. Lots of holidays (he loved Christmas and Halloween more than anyone I’ve ever known!), his dry sense of humor, his beautiful singing voice, love of music, and the joy he found in entertaining people. I remember how much he loved me. Those are the things that matter, and I’m grateful that I can think of him and those things without pain. In fact, that I can think about all of the losses most days without tumbling into an abyss of sadness and for that I’m deeply, deeply grateful. That change was a long time coming.
Time heals if we let it. If we just let it flow – not try to stop it or slow it down – it will wash the pain away gently and leave behind gratitude and joy. Gratitude for the experience, joy in having gained the strength to move on, to be in the moment, open to what (and who) is here for us now.
Like waves in the ocean (or Lake Michigan) – let it flow. Life is beautiful, but loss is inevitable in this human existence. We are tested over and over, learning to let go, until it is our own life we are forced to release. Until then, in the immortal words of Dory:
Just keep swimming.