Over the past few years, a tradition has developed among our friends during our Thanksgiving Eve worship service and pie fest at church–a tradition where, once a year, I hold a baby and try so hard not to be terrified. It started four years ago, when I told my friend’s daughter A that if she could walk to me, I’d hold her on my lap. Little did I know that she had recently started walking pretty well. Then, when our friends C & B had their daughter E, she became the new Thanksgiving Eve baby. This year, when I walked into the sanctuary for worship, E saw me from across the sanctuary, ran over, and climbed over the pew in front of me to jump into my lap. It is tradition, after all.
I love love love the group of friends we have here in Dayton that have truly become like family, and who have walked with us through this past year. I love our traditions, and our kids, and everything that goes along with being “framily.”
After the hot mess of emotions that was Halloween, Scott and I knew that the holidays would be hard this year. Every. Single. One. There’s no questioning the fact that this Thanksgiving should be much, much different than it is. Alexander should have been with us at Thanksgiving worship and pie fest. We should have been passing him around among our friends and marveling at how big he’s gotten in four and a half months. Things just aren’t how they were supposed to be.
Last night, a friend and her boys came over to hang out. After Scott and the boys raked the leaves in our backyard and then enjoyed some time in the hot tub, they settled in to watch youtube videos and movies in the family room. I looked across the room from the kitchen table, and there on the couch sat Scott and ten year old S, with Alexander bear in between them. Oh, how I wish that scene looked different, as Alexander’s presence and absence were both so palpable. I had to check out into the front room by myself for a few minutes, where I pulled out Alexander’s picture from the still packed memorial service bag and just sat in there missing my boy. I looked at his sweet face and wondered: How much bigger would he be now? How different would our life look? Would he just love sitting with Scott and those boys watching videos as they laughed together? How is it possible to miss someone so much that I never even got the chance to know?
Oh, how I miss and love that sweet boy. And while there have been very healing days, there are moments and days where the intense grief still knocks the wind out of me.
So, we’re taking the holidays one at a time. One holiday at a time. One day at a time. One hour at a time. And, at least for this holiday, we’re embracing the fact that it isn’t what it’s supposed to be. For the past five years, we have hosted Thanksgiving here in Dayton with my family. Well, with my mom recently starting a new job and having to work tomorrow, they’re not able to make the drive down here. After the emotions we faced a few weeks ago during our trip up to Cleveland, we weren’t quite prepared to put ourselves back in that situation and environment just yet. So, today we will be spending the day with friends here in Dayton who have truly embraced us as family. We’ll do things completely different than we’re used to, and embrace the fact that this Thanksgiving isn’t at all what it was supposed to be for us.
And, we’ll be thankful. Because even in the midst of the heaviest year of our lives, there are so many things for which we can choose to be thankful.
I am thankful for the messages I have already received this morning reminding me that we are being thought of on this oh so difficult and complicated Thanksgiving, even (and especially) when they come from the most unexpected places–a friend of a friend with whom I’ve connected on facebook because of the losses we share and a former youth group student who now works as a NICU nurse, walking alongside families through both healing and intense grief.
I am thankful for the friends who aren’t afraid to be present with us in the uncomfortable mess of our grief–friends with whom it is okay to cry and okay to laugh.
I’m thankful for the people in our lives who acknowledge our parenthood. Out loud. Who say things like, “Scott is such a good dad… look at the way he ______,” or “from one parent to another, _____,” or “Alexander is proud of his parents.” I know to a lot of people, because we don’t have a living child, we don’t look like parents in the traditional sense. But we are parents. Scott is a great dad. Right now. It’s not a matter of how we “will be” great parents some day. We are parents. And, when people acknowledge that, it means more than I could ever put into words.
I am thankful for our church family, and for the many many ways that they have ministered to us over these past four and a half months. For the ways they’ve allowed us space to grieve. For the meals they provided us for more than a month after Alexander was born. For they ways that they continue to encourage us (and sometimes force us) to take care of ourselves.
I am thankful for the people who aren’t afraid to say Alexander’s name and say it often. They help us to know that he hasn’t been and won’t be forgotten.
I am thankful for our doctors and nurses who took such incredible care of us in July.
I am thankful for our family both biological and chosen.
I am thankful that we will have food on our table today, and that even though today will be different than we are used to, that we will be able to spend it with people we love.
More than anything else, I am thankful for my sweet son Alexander. I am thankful for how he has changed my life and my heart forever by being his mom. I am thankful for how I feel more deeply and experience the world differently because of the love I have for him and for his dad. I am thankful for how he continues to be remembered and how his story is bringing so much awareness and much needed conversation into the lives of our friends and family and beyond about pregnancy and infant loss. And, while I wish more than anything else that our story were different and that he was here, I am thankful that somehow we are able to learn so much from this sweet boy even in his absence from our lives.