I am not a doctor, a scientist or a therapist but I often hear about loss in my work as founder of Less Cancer. I too have had significant loss like so many people.
I remember telling my daughter that I was never one of those individuals who knew what I wanted to do when I grew up. To which my daughter replied, "Thank God because clearly there was a bigger plan for you." I did not know exactly what she meant. She continued, "Dad, how could you ever be mystified as to what your calling was? Who could lose as many people as you have to cancer and think you should be anything but the founder of Less Cancer?"
While the scenario of taking pain and putting it towards purpose sounds logical and sane, the reality is that death and loss are anything but rational and reasonable. We continue to live with that pain. Those we have loved and lost will be on our minds and in our hearts this Thanksgiving.
My mother died in 1995 around Thanksgiving. Mom was a Thanksgiving person; while not a chef with family recipes, she was more of an administrator who could have a table and a meal thrown down like nobody's business. Her meals were unique because of her management style!
Mom always found people that could work holidays, like Ethel who came by way of Yugoslavia and Canada. It worked out well since Ethel, as a Canadian, did not celebrate American Thanksgiving. When mom discovered that Jehovah's Witnesses did not celebrate any holiday, it was like winning the lottery. Mary, a Jehovah Witness, was on dishes for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. Mom's critical role entailed putting on an apron - to answer the door for the Caterer!
Mom had her own way of wearing an apron; she did not wear it to protect herself from spills but rather as a warrior's uniform, a badge of honor, directing her troops, pointing and coaching anyone who was in earshot in the kitchen. After a few minutes of ensuring that all knew their jobs, she would have a very satisfied look, take a drag of her Carlton and a sip of her Canadian Club.
Years later, when Mom died, and Thanksgiving was upon us just days later, I decided I would take the chairs away from the large dining room table, and we would be having a buffet dinner. If no one would be seated, perhaps we would not notice that she was gone. I would just keep telling myself she was in the bathroom or left the room for that moment.
The buffet was in the dining room, and people took their plates into the living room which just days prior had held my Mom's open casket, something you just could not un-see; but I tried, and the voice in my head just kept reassuring me that Mom had just stepped out of the room.
Now 21 years later so many that I would see or have a conversation with over the Thanksgiving holiday are gone. While we power through our meals and our traditions, sometimes we go to a darker place when our pumpkin pie, mashed potatoes or green beans are not the same as a faint childhood memory that maybe only you have remembered. By focusing on the little stuff, we can avoid looking at the bigger picture, which can be too hard to accept. I get that. So with several people now missing from my Thanksgivings, the little things do bug me because the big things can just be so darn hard to see, too painful to let it in. I still regret teasing my mom for not doing Thanksgiving the way they portrayed on TV, and now I wished maybe I honored her for her incredible way of producing an unmatched, family meal. While I did not understand the expanse of her efforts or our blessings, I do now. If heaven can hear, I am so grateful for what is so obvious today.
I think of my children who baked pound cake with our dear friend Elizabeth every Thanksgiving. Before she died, she encouraged me about Less Cancer. "William, if you don't do it, who will?" She was inspiring for all who knew her and I still find myself getting weepy about her now years later. While many share that sense of loss, we need to go into Thanksgiving with open hearts. For some of us the process is complicated, and it may be a time of holding hands and holding on.
On this Thanksgiving, I think of all those I love and their many losses - parents, children, siblings and dear friends. I think of those who may have little hope, broken hearts or who may be facing homelessness and hunger. I am grateful and understand my many blessings, but like many of us, also need to be more understanding, more generous and more open.
Sometimes imperfect tables, burned food or even indigestion can remind us not to sweat the small details but to take in the big picture with gratitude instead of sorrow.
I am praying for all of us and sending the human race my Thanksgiving love, for we are all fragile and need to be handled with care.