I don’t know about you but the holidays can be an emotionally rough time. My holiday blues usually begin with Thanksgiving and peak at Christmas. Maybe it is because of all the high expectations placed upon this time of year. Perhaps it is due to the stress of having to do so much work in so little time. Some if it could be due to the days growing shorter and the nights lingering far too long. Part of me, too, wonders if the impetus to feel thankful somehow elicits the opposite reaction. The cynical portion of my psyche wants to rebel against the Norman Rockwell portraits of perfect family holiday harmony. The realist in me says that such perfection does not exist. The romantic in me mourns that this is true.
I recall an internship I did at an outpatient drug and alcohol treatment program for nine months. The patients were addicted to either drugs or alcohol, sometimes both. And they were also diagnosed with some sort of mental illness. Some had lost custody of their children. Others had done jail time. Some of the women were prostituting themselves for drugs. Most felt hopeless and helpless over their addictions. Thanksgiving seemed almost a slap in the face to this population who sometimes felt they had very little to be thankful for. It would take a lot to make the people from this crowd look at any glass as half full. Yet this is exactly what did happen on a day near Thanksgiving.
The lead therapist was running a group session where the patients were talking about family. Since Thanksgiving was coming up, people talked about how hard it was for them to get along with family members who did not understand about their mental illness or addictions. Many stories were told with both sadness and anger of how family had let them down. Within the group there was this one tall lanky man who never said a word at any group session. He usually just stared ahead until the time was up without a single utterance or even a facial cue that he was listening. One woman was bitterly complaining about the relatives she could not stand to see for the holidays. It was then that the man who usually remained silent spoke up for the first time.
“At least you have a family. I got nobody. I ain’t got a home to go to. I don’t have a family to complain about.”
The whole room grew silent. Everyone was humbled including me.
Every Thanksgiving I think about that man. I have no idea what happened to him or if he is even living now. I just hope that he found some sort of home and companionship somewhere.
It is on Thanksgiving too that I remember my friend who passed away on this holiday. One of my dearest and best friends, Jim, died on Thanksgiving Day some years ago. He died of a massive heart attack. I don’t think he knew what hit him. Quite frankly he died of obesity. He weighed over three hundred pounds and his heart just could not stand the strain.
In the irony of ironies he was scheduled for gastric bypass surgery in the following weeks after Thanksgiving. But of course he didn’t make it. Of all the days for him to die, Thanksgiving. Go figure. I remember feeling so angry at him and at myself for not doing more to help him with his health. So every Thanksgiving I feel a sadness and guilt for losing my friend. I think about all the holidays he has missed and all the future Thanksgivings without him.
Then too there are good Thanksgiving memories. My eldest son was born the day after Thanksgiving fifteen years ago. I can hardly believe so much time has passed. I have a photo of me with a huge pink jersey on fully stretched out with baby. The photo was taken at a friend’s parent’s house as they had graciously invited us for Thanksgiving dinner. I was over a week overdue and so anxious to have this baby. We had waited for years to have him due to infertility issues. And now the time was almost near.
I laughed and relaxed and ate a ton that Thanksgiving. I jokingly tell everyone my son needed to be bribed with a Thanksgiving dinner before he would come out. The very next morning I had my first contractions. Late that evening I held my baby who was wrapped in a “Terrible Towel” because the Steelers were playing that weekend. The hospital personnel were big Steeler fans. My son was a little Thanksgiving miracle and he still is. One of his favorite foods? Turkey
Life is a mixed bag of memories isn’t it? For each year that passes we collect more and more experiences to reflect upon. As we pass our plates around to be filled with turkey and gravy and sweet potatoes (hopefully the kind with the marshmallows on top) we think about holidays past. Some moments humble us, some make us grieve for the people no longer with us, and some memories grow up to be big teenagers asking for more stuffing. The blues weave in and out of my holiday. But they also make me remember the good things too. Life may not be a Norman Rockwell painting but that is okay with me. I have a feeling he never painted a newborn baby wrapped in a Terrible Towel!