To be quite honest I was terrified of Thanksgiving this year. Holidays are typically stressful- in the best of ways- for most families. Schedules, road trips, different beds, tired kids, unusual routines, faces you love-but-haven't-lived with since high school and about five, ten, fifteen extra people squeezed into houses built for, well, not fifteen. We walk into the holidays silently praying that no one turns on the wrong news channel or brings up politics, hoping that we don't get caught giving the stink eye to another siblings' kid (though we love our nieces and nephews- we do-it's just...) and praying that everyone eats the food with as much enthusiastic joy as the hostess is hoping for.
Most people spend the holidays waiting for earthquakes, praying for tremors, grateful for fault lines buried deep beneath the earth's surface. Even the irreligious know to start the holidays off with a little holy help prayer on their lips.
So this year was no different than any others. There would be two sisters, four nieces, three husbands, one tiny house, two excited grandparents, and more food than we could stomach. There would be the normal aforementioned family issues that people face whilst heading into the holidays. Joy and stress co-mingling. Fault lines shifting. Families colliding. But this time there would be holes. Missing spots at the table. Grief, raw and unvarnished.
This year there would be no Grandpa. No Mamaw. No Maggie. No Ellen.
I was terrified that our family had weathered the most immediate moments of our deep losses but would come together, thrust into the familial chaos of holidays, and finally implode. I knew we had made it through the center of the storm. The part where you are thrashed about until your bones hurts and your soul cries mercy. But sometimes, when it's all said and done, that's the easy part. The storm. The decimation. In those moments you get these magical things called endorphins. They kick in and kick butt. Leading up to the storm, and at the storms very height, you are surrounded by the prayers of people, generous doses of God's peace that passes understanding, super-human grace and an overall blurry, fuzzy feeling that keeps you from actually feeling the full weight of it all. But after all that passes and you are mangled up like driftwood, in a river three counties over, in a place you have never known...well, that's when the hard work and spaghetti aisle meltdowns begin.
And I was afraid that moment would happen for all of us, simultaneously, around the Thanksgiving dinner table. The spaghetti aisle meltdown. As if all our grief--- raw, unvarnished, different in nature and beast- would rub to together like sand paper until the fault lines had no choice but to find fault and finally falter.
What happened instead was quite unexpected.
We had our best Thanksgiving ever.
I think it's because we all came with our limps, battle scars and sadness and we were kind to one another. Empathetic. Gracious. And honest.
I think it's because my 83 year-old-grandma who had to take her husband of fifty-five years off of unexpected life support in August... was brave enough to get on a plane by herself and show up for the day of giving thanks.
I think it's because my dad loved on the granddaughters he did have, but when it came time to pray around the Thanksgiving table he gave thanks for Maggie and Ellen too. And then he openly wept, and in so doing, gave us permission to finally do the same.
I think it's because we played football. And wore turkey hats. And drank more Starbucks coffee than can possibly be good for us. And played dominoes. And let our girls run free. And let our tears run free. And dwelt in the beauty of the moment while also being able to say to one another, "Hey, remember that one year FROM HELL?!?!? Yeah... it's almost over now." And I mostly think it's because we all showed up when we didn't want to. When we didn't think we could and didn't know how or what the outcome might be. We showed up anyways. And we all knew we were walking on fault lines that might give at any moment- but still- we walked.
And you know what? The fault lines seemed to re-align. To pull in tight. To grow stronger under the earth beneath us. There were no stress fractures, no earthquakes, no tremors. There was strength in showing up with what little we had, but showing up all the while. And this year I am thankful for Thanksgiving. The actual day, the actual meal around the table, the actual chaotic holiday of it all. Because this year we are still walking... and we all walked to the table together.
In loving memory of Maggie Jane and Ellen Olivia Miller, my beautiful nieces. Merlin Hehn, my amazing grandpa. Merle Chisolm, my beautiful mamaw. Jimmy Mac McNamara, my friend and manna. All celebrating Thanksgiving in heaven this year.