How We Give Thanks
With Thanksgiving almost upon us it takes me back 3 years ago to the hardest Thanksgiving I have ever had in my life.
You see, we have a tradition in our family that my mother started. We write what we are thankful for on the table cloth and then put it away for a year and then add to it year after year. It’s filled with warm thoughts, funny stuff and handwriting that goes from childish to sophisticated. It’s a permanent reminder when we sit down together to GIVE THANKS, that the bonds we have together as family and friends are really what makes life worth living. Thanksgiving for our house means connection which solidifies the bonds of LOVE.
Before we are allowed to eat (yes you heard me right, I said allowed), we stand in a circle around the table and hold hands. One by one we each take our turn and express what we are thankful for and then grace is said. Then and only then, when we have each stated what we are thankful for, said grace and all hats are removed can we sit down and dive into the sweet potatoes with the perfectly browned baked marshmallows on top, moist savory stuffing, mash potatoes whipped to perfection and gravy, turkey, honey roasted ham, green beans and right out of the oven biscuits with butter melted on the inside.
Sometimes it’s been harder than you think to get through the Thanksgiving rites to eat. I remember one year shortly after the movie “Talladega Nights” came out, and we were all together in the circle saying what we were thankful for, and when it came to my niece Mallorie’s turn she blurted out that she was thankful for “Dear Lord Baby Jesus….” Which is a line from the movie. This may not seem like a problem, but for certain people in the family aka Grandma Lilly (in her 90’s) who was raised a hard shell Baptist, we all held our breath, opened one eye to peek at her and then kept on with saying thanks. Little by little the giggles took over and they rippled through the family as our bodies convulsed trying to keep from laughing out loud. One hand would shake just enough to affect the other persons hand that they were holding, and we were all spun into a concoction of happiness, love and fear. My mother, was trying to keep it all together giving the “evil eye” to us all and we squeezed each other’s hands tighter and tighter trying to steady the emotions. My grandmother never had a clue, and we were finally able to say grace and eat.
Sometimes, the emotions that caused us to convulse and feel deep love and appreciation for each other were not caused by humor but by tragedy… Several weeks earlier, my 19 year old nephew Matt had tragically passed in a car accident. He was the kind of kid that lit up the room with his smile, was incredibly funny, smart and athletic and lived life to the last drop. To put it simply, he was DEEPLY LOVED by all who knew him. Although you want the world to stop spinning it does not and life goes on, no matter how tragic the loss, the clock keeps on ticking and the days keep passing until finally we were at Thanksgiving.
The table cloth was pulled out, ironed and placed upon the table. The food was prepared. The circle was formed….but this year we were missing a link. What happened next changed me and the rest of us there that day, from the inside out. When we held hands, we held them more deeply, not necessarily tighter but just more connected – if that makes sense. Just as the year prior we had felt the ripple of emotion that would then convulse through us all, we felt it again. But this time holding back tears instead of giggles. We each went around and said what we were thankful for, and it was like an explosion of LOVE. What I hadn’t expected in the loss of Matt was that he could teach us to love and appreciate each other on a deeper level. It was like his energy was coursing though our hands and our hearts, helping each of us to speak and filling us with love. We shared more THANKS GIVING that day than we ever had before, we connected in our common pain and love.
Looking at the table cloth and seeing what Matt had written was a gift from my mother that we will forever treasure. My grandfather who had passed was also there in the fabric of our family. We all added to the table cloth, just as we had in the past, but somehow now realized that it was a snapshot in time, a time capsule of sweet memories that became immortal.
Afterwards, we celebrated life together. Matt was not a ho-hum kinda fellow. We turned up the music, danced, laughed and cried, sang karaoke and shared a little gluhwein (my Grandma thought we were drinking spiced cider). Most importantly we really connected with each other. We forevermore dispensed with the holiday gatherings of polite hugs and lite conversation. We became a family again.
Holidays which are meant to be joyous can be the worst time for those of us that have lost someone. We are all in this together, just remember that LOVE WINS, so give thanks for the breath you’ve been given and connect with others and dance, cry but most importantly GIVE THANKS.
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