Giving Thanks

Our family celebrated an early Thanksgiving today. My mother’s sisters are in town for the week, their first pilgrimage in twenty years to visit their oldest sibling. Since my brother’s schedule is torn between four kids from two marriages, a girlfriend with two kids of her own, and a demanding work schedule, we all agreed to move our usual Thanksgiving weekend get together to coincide with the aunties’ visit. My usually quiet house has been filled with the sounds of laughter and shared stories, not to mention the perpetual nagging of the family elders about the failings of the younger members. It was a long day and I’m grateful for the relative silence that descended after my brother’s brood departed and everyone else settled in front of the television for the night.

Today was a bittersweet one for me. Before Andy’s passing, we’d made plans for him to be here this weekend, to introduce him to my family, to announce that we intended to make legal the vows that we’d already sworn to each other. It was going to be a bombshell, I admit, and it was probably unfair to unleash such a revelation upon my family who have no idea that Andy even existed. There were so many factors driving our decision to present him to my family at this gathering and if I displayed doubt, Andy had been quick to remind me that I was not facing this alone, that at the end of the day, he’d be by my side. And that was all that mattered.

Andy was not by my side today but I still could feel the peaceful presence of him, the same feeling I’d experienced the last time I saw him. It was both painful and comforting, feeling that he’d kept his promise as best he could, that he was still watching over me, keeping me from being alone. I chopped five pounds of onions today in a pathetic attempt to cover the fact that I needed very desperately to cry for awhile. Finding a quiet, isolated place to grieve is difficult when you’re in a house full of people, especially a group of people who have the best of intentions and insist in helping with every problem, even those that require introspection and solitude. So I chopped every last onion in the house and gave myself to cry as much as I needed to and to shout (at least in my own head) all those things that I wanted to say… that life was cruel, that I hated having been given the gift of seeing the beauty of someone only to have them taken away (for the umpteenth time in my life), that I wanted everyone to leave me alone to my grief and stop expecting me to act like life was wonderful. Never mind that I’ve steadfastly refused to even say Andy’s name to anyone in my family; I wanted still wanted them to give me space and let my private grief be allowed to find expression. At the end of chopping a half dozen large onions and three bunches of spring onions, I felt better and started to believe the whispering in my brain that kept repeating “You are not alone. You are loved.”

This feeling persisted throughout the day. It felt to me that he was there, watchful and encouraging. Even in the midst of large family gatherings, I often feel alone and isolated, as if I don’t quite belong with the group (it would take a lifetime of blogging to explain the reasons for that!). Today, I felt content with being a part of things instead of the usual anxiety of feeling like a bug under a microscope. My heart and mind were calm for a change and as much as the word is over-used, zen would describe the hours that followed crying over chopped onions.

When it came time for our family’s annual dinner game of “What Are You Thankful For”, I prepared myself to list the usual… family, spirituality, health, friends, enough abundance to not want. Then one of my aunts decided to throw her own rule into this round of sharing: no one was allowed to repeat what someone had already said. By the time the questioning had come around to me, all of my answers had been taken. My brother poked me in the ribs and teased me about being thankful for only having to cook for everyone once a year. Since I love to cook for other people, I’d be thankful for the opportunity to do it more often, actually. Instead, I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and said “I’m thankful for getting to spend time with my friend Andy before he passed away.”

There… I’ve done it. I’ve said his name in the presence of not just one family member, but an entire gathering of them. My mother gave me a look that spoke volumes. Who was this Andy person? Why haven’t you mentioned him before? What’s this about a friend dying? You never told me a word about this. I live under your roof and you kept this from me. What else are you not telling me?

Everyone else accepted this with murmurs of sympathy, but no questions, no inquiries about it, no probing into who this person might have been to me. Perhaps the questions will come later in a less public forum. I’m fairly certain that my mother will ask… or spend many hours telling the rest of the family that she just doesn’t know me anymore and that I hide things from her. Our relationship is sometimes a little difficult, she depends too much on me and I withdraw further from her when she leans. There’s much about Andy that I won’t tell her. I haven’t yet decided just how much I will say to her. Sometimes, less is more with my family. Yet my silence is broken and I answered the “thankful” question with the only honest answer I could muster at that moment. I am thankful for the time spent with him. I wish he could have been here with us today, but in a way, he was there, bestowing in me a confidence that I could face whatever might come and survive stronger than I’d been before. If there has been a lesson in knowing Andy, it is the knowledge that I can experience heartbreak and still feel strong and loved. For that I’m the most thankful.

Now at the end of the day, my mind is still calm and centered. Even as I’ve written this blog, my thoughts have been clear and focused on a single issue. Not my family, not myself, not even Andy. No, the only burning question in my mind is “what am I going to do with five pounds of chopped onions?”

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