My recollection is that Thanksgiving is usually a joyful time for me, full of gratitude for the many blessings in my life. When I was feeling sad and out-of-sorts on Thanksgiving this year, my husband pointed out to me that I usually go through a period of sadness around this holiday each year, much to my surprise. I guess I must have blocked that out of my memory, but I realized that he is correct. My dad died five years ago on November 30 and my mom died five years before him. Growing up, Thanksgiving was always held at my house; my mom would get out her fancy dishes (which I now have and use), and we would cook all day. She and I would watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade as we mixed and stirred and poured, and my dad would busy himself with setting the table and bringing up extra chairs for our family members. He always got so excited about our family being gathered together that he would give himself a stomach ache. But I knew it came from a place of deep love and joy inside of him. It was a wonderful day full of the warmest memories for me. And because of that, Thanksgiving is inextricably woven together with memories of my parents. I thought about them all week leading up to Thanksgiving, but the thoughts were happy memories. When the actual day arrived, I thought about them with every dish I prepared and every plate I pulled out. The more I thought about them, the sadder I felt. And the sadder I felt, the grumpier I became. I noticed around mid-day that my grumpy mood was rubbing off on my husband, and he began snipping at our kids just as I had started doing earlier. That was the wake-up call I needed to stop for a moment and check in with myself. I realized that my grief for my parents was rearing its ugly head as it sometimes unexpectedly does, even after this many years.
I thought about what I could do to make myself feel better, but I knew that before I could feel better, I needed to allow myself to feel the sadness and the grief and allow it to move through me, but how? I was busy preparing Thanksgiving dinner. I talked to my husband and let him know what was going on inside my head and my heart. He explained to me that he could tell I was sad and as a result, he was trying to make everything “perfect.” I then explained to him that when I feel sad, I don’t need perfection, I need permission to just feel sad. (Good communication is vital in a healthy marriage.) I had about an hour until the first relatives were due to arrive, so I decided I would take our dog for a quick walk. Being out in nature always rebalances me and makes me feel better. Plus, I knew that being alone, I could allow myself to feel that sadness deeply, and even cry if I needed to (which I did). When I came back home, I did not feel as well as I had hoped I would feel, and so I let my husband know that I was going up to our bedroom for a few extra minutes. I sat down in our walk-in closet and told my parents in my head how much I loved them and how badly I was missing them. I said in my head how much I wished they could be here with me. I opened my eyes and our dog and cat immediately entered our closet and sat there with me. I could feel that they were there to bring comfort to my aching heart, and I indeed felt comforted. I sat there in silence with my animals for a few more minutes breathing deeply and being very still until I could feel the pain and sadness of grief wash over, through me and out again. When I went downstairs, I felt much better and was ready to fully enjoy my Thanksgiving with my family. And my husband felt better and more relaxed as well.
Before I noticed what was going on earlier that day, my sensitive daughter immediately picked up on my sadness and was trying to find ways to comfort me, asking me questions, rubbing my back, etc. I told her I was just sad and that I would feel better soon, but I could tell that was not enough for her; she did not understand fully. After I sat in my grief and sadness, allowed it to flow through me, and I came down feeling better, I called her aside and explained to her what had happened that day. I told her I was really missing my mom and dad, who I loved so much and it was making me sad. I knew that the best way to get through my sadness was to allow myself to feel it, as I always tell her. I explained that I went for a walk to be alone with my feelings, and then I sat upstairs in my room alone to continue to feel my feelings, and that once I fully felt them, I was able to release them. This is how I have taught her to deal with her difficult emotions as well and I think it was helpful for her to see me going through the same process with my emotions. My daughter looked into my eyes, told me how much she loves me, hugged me tight and then went off to play.