Thanksgiving: what a loaded holiday. It is a day in which we take pause and reflect on all that we are grateful for. We are keenly aware of the riches of our lives and the joys we have been fortunate enough to experience. It is a time to be with family and friends who, perhaps, we have not shared a meal or even a visit with in longer than we ever intended. We consume every comfort food imaginable and pat ourselves on the back for having remembered to wear the loosest pants in the closet. And, speaking only for myself, you sometimes feel guilty for not always feeling terribly thankful. Yep, I said it.
And for me, it is often the hardest time of the year. I have long associated my discomfort with Thanksgiving to my freshman year of college. It was my first visit home after having left for school and despite the heavy backpack I am quite sure I lugged home, I had no intention of doing any work whatsoever. My parents, my brothers and my new (at the time) sister-in-law all convened around the dining room table and pigged out on your standard turkey dinner which, of course, included a sweet potato casserole (I’ve never actually used that word) with the requisite mini marshmallows on top. Midway through the meal, I started to feel unwell. Assuming it was my body fighting back against the late nights at school during which I had imbibed more and slept less than I should, I didn’t make think much of it. And then I was in pain. I retreated upstairs just as the table was to be cleared and assumed the fetal position. My folks were far more empathetic than one of my brothers (naming no names) who strongly suggested that my “illness” was actually a ploy to get out of helping with the dishes. Boy, did he have egg on his face when I was wheeled in for emergency surgery later that same night to remove an ovarian cyst which was so large that it was pressing on my back – thus the pain.
Back in those days, when you had surgery they actually kept you in the hospital for a few days (in my case I believe it was four, but I could be wrong) during which my brothers (both) showed their true colors and regaled me with attention due any college student who comes home from school only to wind up in the OR. Among the wonderful things they brought to me were a Sony Walkman (remember those?) along with a stack of probably twenty-five cassette tapes (remember those?) as well as a pair of slippers that looked like elephants complete with long noses at the end. Thus began my disdain of Thanksgiving.
Fast forward nine years and one would find me to be among the most hugely pregnant-from-eyebrow-to-ankle woman (on the plus side, my hair was rockin’) this side of I don’t know what. By the time the big feast arrived I was already six days late to deliver Harrison and had long since stopped finding it funny. I was not one of those beautiful pregnant women who could pull on a cute fitted top (thank G-d fitted maternity clothes did not come into vogue until my child rearing years had passed) and head out the door. In fact, the jean shirt which I had been donning became so over-worn that it was a. threadbare and b. requested to be lost by more than one person. I was uncomfortable, scared shitless of labor and exhausted. Ahhh…another Thanksgiving to remember. (Note: Harrison did not feel the need to make his way into the world until that Sunday…10 days late.)
The next several Thanksgivings came and went without incident, yet I always had a gnawing feeling in the back of my head that something was gonna happen. Fast forward another nine years (hmmm…just realized that coincidence) when I was exactly one week post-op from my bi-lateral mastectomy. I am not sure he even realized this at the time (I know I didn’t) but my brother David, days before the surgery, sent me a huge package containing a boombox/cd player for my bedroom along with a stack of probably twenty CDs (times they are achangin’) this time of all comedy bits: everything from Mel Brooks to Jackie Mason to Jerry Seinfeld to Margaret Cho. Yes, a theme has emerged. I happen to be a rock-star patient and managed to get myself into an outfit of sorts – most definitely something loose to accommodate the drains that still hung from my torso – (after having had my fabulous hairdresser wash and blow out my hair…I was not allowed to shower and my post surgical arms were seriously lacking mobility) and make it to the table along with my entire family, including my father (who was, at the time, fighting lung cancer), my children and five of my nieces and nephews. This time, there was no discussion about my bailing on the dishes…I had a pass.
This year marks the eighth since my diagnosis. Since that time so much has happened. I lost my father and gained a daughter. I have experienced the joys, anxieties, thrills and frustrations of my children who were two and nine at the time, morph into real people who are both about to have birthdays. I’ve lost and regained (some of) the weight gained from having been gloriously fed by my friends and families. (It was a long time before I became re-interested in lasagna). I have had a few different jobs and have learned a lot about being an adult. I am grateful for my many blessings, but it doesn’t make me any less weary of this holiday. Truth.
A few people I am thinking of more than ever: (this makes me nervous because I don’t want to leave anyone out – we are all fighting against, or hoping for something in our lives…please do not take offense if I have omitted you.)
MF: who has had more than her share of a shit-storm but sailed through her own bi-lateral mastectomy this week with grace, humor and strength.
MS: who is knocking it out of the park with her own transgender child only to be hit with an out of the blue Leukemia diagnosis in her family.
SP: who was supposed to be recuperating with a brand new kidney right about now but her body didn’t cooperate as it should have, but will.
BM, JM, JM, BHM and DM: who lost a son and brother with no warning and far too young.
RR: who is loving and supporting her husband as he fights a devastating illness.
JW: who is tearing up the internet searching for the best way to handle her beautiful daughter’s angry thyroid.
RR: who is still trying to understand the untimely, unexpected and deeply mourned loss of her brother.
LH: who lost her lifelong summer retreat and store during hurricane Sandy.
I know there are more, and I am still reluctant to post this for fear of leaving someone out, but please know that I am thinking of you all.
Wishing everyone a happy, uneventful, non-weight gaining, pleasant, easy, tasty Thanksgiving. And, yes, I do realize that, if my “every nine year” pattern holds, next year is probably going to suck.
Gratuitous display of Jessie’s autumnal drawing: