Yes, I do like to share my ideas in case you might need some inspiration for your own tables.
But I also wanted to use these photos as a lesson about perfect-looking images and how they can camouflage really tough days. I’ve always thought the best thing about these wonderfully staged images is that they can inspire our creative energies, and the worst thing about them is they can set us up for disillusionment when we’re back in the real world with all its variegated imperfections.
Here’s the truth.
I haven’t given any thought yet to my Thanksgiving table and here it is, the day before. That doesn’t mean much unless you know me. And while some of my delayed reaction might be lumped under the heading of ‘another bizarre COVID-19-related experience.’ That’s not completely truthful.
Yesterday, I had a really hard day. Just so hard. If you’re trudging through the holidays after a recent loss of a loved one you know what this means.
I haven’t had one of these days in a while. It began with an insidious headache, mild but lingering in my soft temples all day, that was my first sign. And of course, somewhere in my head I heard the voice of Cheryl, my colleague from-my-old-therapist-days of the past telling me, “Leslie, did you know that Gestalt therapists believe a headache is really pent-up tears?”
Yeah, Cheryl thanks for sharing this, and by-the-way do you know that thirty years later-- every time I have a nagging headache I cannot get this bit of body-mind wisdom out of my head?
Because yes, for me, ‘the headache thing’ is generally true. Yesterday was a day when I couldn’t shake the low-grade headache that was accompanied by a sorrow, so dense and heavy in the center of my chest that it hurt. That’s where I feel my heartache in my body, and in the beginning this chest pain was so bad my doctor sent me to the sweetest cardiologist, who did inform me that yes, you can actually die of heartbreak and there’s a name for that which I choose not to remember.
My heart, it hurts so much. It hurts.. oh God.
In the beginning I would say this out loud to Jim the way a sick child does, because I have to name what’s happening to me as a way of getting through it. I’ve learned that now. And so when the headache came yesterday morning with my coffee, I was also aware of a slow, wave of pain and longing for my boy, beginning to roll over me. What is that word that describes missing someone so intensely that it physical hurts? I don’t know it yet in alphabetical letters, but when I feel it---these bodily sensations and emotions take me to the edge of tears all day.
I'd describe it as a state of being held together by wispy threads of fragility that feel almost otherworldly. Maybe this is what Father Greg meant when he told me that God is always holding you in the palm of his hand, even when you can’t feel this.
I don’t know.
But at the end of the day –after going to two stores to find a turkey small enough --I walked into the house with my Whole Foods turkey, promptly took two ibuprofen, called Jim to tell him I was going to take a nap, something I never do. And I flopped on my bed.
I don’t know how long I lay awake before my uneasy sleep, but I watched the light from my upstairs window move through shades of musky gray. At some point it was dark and instead of jumping up and cleaning the morning dishes and throwing a quick dinner together, I stayed on top my fluffy comforter and watched videos of Patrick on my IPhone, smiling and even laughing at his silliness. Remembering how funny he was and loving his voice
Jim came home and I cried some more and we made a salad and salmon together, watched some more of Queen’s Gambit, and afterwards we walked Stella under a cold blue sky. And because the hurt in my chest still felt red and raw, I became that patient who has gingerly left her hospital bed, and is shuffling her feet down the cold linoleum hallway in order to regain her strength.
Baby steps. One at a time.
Yes, it had been a tough day.
In addition to learning how to move through the holidays without Patrick—Jim and I decided to follow CDC recommendations against travel, so we’re staying cozy and safe at home, which means a stunning reversal of traditional Thanksgivings past, and for the first time in our lives we won’t be home with extended family and friends. Nope, it will be just us three bodies and one beautiful spirit.
And yes, while we can acknowledge our personal choice in the matter, if you’re like me, it’s been a long, tiring road of looking on the bright side of this COVID-19 period. And it’s ok to recognize that there’s been a substantial amount of letting-go experiences that so many of us are having to accept right now. What that means is, that we’re all carrying around a lot of small, stinging losses and grief. And it’s ok to sit with that.
On this day it didn’t help that my mother called me and threw one of her fits, another one of her dramas. That’s another tangible loss during the holidays that’s important to acknowledge. The very real experience of loss that comes in the form of people that cannot show up for us when we need them.
During regular life when we’re feeling strong and intact, dealing with these family members is easier than during a year like this one.
Just saying. Stay aware or your expectations, it’s ultimately the thing that protects us.
After my hard day I woke up to brilliant sunshine pouring through the clouds and even though it didn’t stay around long, it showed up like a beaming smile of redemption.
Today. Hooray! I had no trace of a headache. I got my grocery shopping done by 8:30 am, where I had fun in the flower section picking out pale pink roses and shiny orange mandarins for my table. Michael called and said, “Love you Mom.” And I couldn’t help but want to write this post for anyone out there who might be coming into these holidays with a tiredness or feeling glum or nursing some disappointment and maybe you don’t even know why.
Here’s my advice. Be gentle with yourself. Stay aware. Drink lots of water for physical and symbolic cleansing. Take intentional ‘breathing’ breaks. Listen to your body and notice where your body stores tension or sadness. And when all else fails, take a damn nap even if it means leaving the kitchen a mess or postponing a trip to the grocery store.
Last night when I was crying on the kitchen stool, I told Jim, “I’ll feel better in the morning. This is just a hard day.”
And do you know what?
I did feel better.
Because You and I are going to be just fine. No matter what life brings us.
And your Thanksgiving this year—no matter how small and different and odd it might seem as a result—will be beautifully imperfect.
Remember, we're all in this together my friends.