Wednesday, November 21, 2012

My First Thanksgiving After...

Thanksgiving used to be one of those holidays that I loved, but wasn't that big of a deal. During school I got a long break, my mom cooked a big meal, I got to see family and it was usually pretty relaxing. Then post-college work began, and after I left teaching, I didn't always get Friday off. I wasn't always able to go visit my family. I didn't always get the big home-cooked meal. It was okay. Living so close to my sister made it better. She did most of the cooking, I added my contributions and it still felt like a nice holiday. Then we were pregnant with a due date of January 1, 2010, but it was a twin pregnancy, so the ultimate goal was to carry them until December 4. We could have still made Thanksgiving; my sister only lives 45 minutes away. If anything happened on Thanksgiving we could leave her house and head straight to the hospital. But then Oscar and Bella were born at the end of July 2009.
That first Thanksgiving was difficult. Even the lead-up was difficult. In my family, we always exchange Christmas lists no later than Thanksgiving. This was a tradition that had been going on for years. I didn't want to exclude myself, when I already felt separated from so much by Oscar's and Bella's deaths, but I also did not feel comfortable asking for "stupid" things. All I wanted for Christmas that year was to have my kids back, and no matter how many times I would have written in on my list, I knew it wasn't going to happen. So, instead we put this message at the top of our Christmas list: 

This year for Christmas, we decided that no gift is going to make Christmas happy for us. Instead we decided to try to make someone else’s Christmas happier. Instead of gifts to us, please make donations to any of the organizations below in memory of Oscar and Bella. If there is another charity that you would rather give to, that helps children, please feel free to donate there.

We followed this message by listing a few organizations, in case people needed an idea of where to donate. I emailed my list the morning of Thanksgiving, knowing that I would see the majority of my family later that day at my sister's house. I secretly hoped that they would not read my list until the next day, or at least until after we left that evening to return home.

Jon and I arrived at my sister's house. There were pleasantries. There was chit-chat. There was football. Things were going okay. We were all helping get the meal ready, getting the table set and making sure everyone was getting seated for the meal. Prior to eating, my dad wanted to say a prayer. As my dad began speaking, I looked down, as most people do when praying. It was then that I started crying. It wasn't sobbing. It wasn't a fast flow of tears, but there were tears. My dad finished the prayer, he looked at me and asked me if it was something he'd said. I told him it wasn't and we moved on with the meal. What I remember from that Thanksgiving, and what made me cry then, was the realization of where I was sitting. I was sitting at one end of my sister's table. The seat whose chair backed up to a wall. When I looked down during the prayer I realized that I should not have been able to sit there. I should have been too big to fit in that spot because I would have been 35 weeks pregnant and would have needed more space than that seat allowed.

After the meal, and after our food settled, there was some commotion in the kitchen. From what I could overhear I knew people were beginning to discuss Christmas lists. I could see my sister opening up her laptop to retrieve the lists that she knew had already been emailed, mine included. My butt remained firmly planted to the chair I was sitting on in the living room. Jon figured out what was going on in the kitchen and asked me if I wanted to go in, which resulted in a "no". I hoped that those in the kitchen would read my list, understand that I couldn't sit there and talk about wanting a new sweater, new kitchen appliances or lotion for Christmas. My children were dead, I wanted them back, and asking for donations in their names was the only way I could think of to still include myself in my family's tradition. This would not be the case. My eldest sister came into the living room and asked me if I'd join her in the family room...a room that was unoccupied. She shared with me that she hadn't read my list until just then and she was concerned. I was able to explain to her the thought behind our Christmas list. If I couldn't have my kids back, then the only thing that might make me happy that Christmas was to know that because of Oscar and Bella someone else was having a happier Christmas that good was happening in the world because of my kids. I cried some, but it was okay. She understood, she got it, and she shared with others who questioned her about our list. At a time when it was so hard to be thankful for anything, I was so thankful and grateful that my sister read my list, pulled me aside (privately) to truly find out the meaning behind my list, that she didn't think I was weird, strange or crazy for asking others to make donations and that she cared enough to listen.

Though that Thanksgiving was three years ago, and the holidays are a bit easier now, I still remember that first Thanksgiving of missing Oscar and Bella. It is easier now, because we have Gus here. His presence has softened the pain of not having Oscar, Bella and Tittle here, but the pain is still here. I continue to miss and grieve for my children every day. And as my family and my sister's family gather around the Thanksgiving table tomorrow, I will be quite aware of the three chairs that should be there, but aren't, while being extremely and wonderfully appreciative of the one chair that is at the table.

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