It was a knock-down, drag out fight. And it was happening in our living room on Thanksgiving Day 2011. There was no family gathering of the eat-turkey-and-watch-football variety, but there in our living room, we were gathered around a hospice bed that other people had died in, and now it was mom’s turn, and for shame, we were standing over her and shouting.
We had just brought her home from the hospital. She had been there for weeks, I’ve forgotten how long. I had been camped out in her room of the fifth floor oncology wing of Sparrow Hospital during most of that time, sleeping on a vinyl pull-out couch at night, driving home every couple days to shower and grab clean clothes. A couple of days before the holiday, her doctors sat us down in a half-circle of chairs around her bed to tell us that she only had a six weeks left. I remember that as one of the worst days of my life, perhaps more than the morning of her death. They made arrangements for her to have in-home hospice care, and we brought her home on that Thanksgiving afternoon.
And so there we were, each of us shaken and exhausted. We all wanted every other person in the room to go to the Thanksgiving dinner at my grandparents’ house so that we could have time alone with mom. And so, in our attempt to love her well to the end, we argued over her.
It was The Worst Thanksgiving Ever.
It felt like acutely like failure and death, made all the more painful with the knowledge that while we were grieving and fighting, everyone else was cozying up by the big Butterball turkey and toasting to another great year. I felt so utterly bitter and broken.
But after we had each retreated to a small corner of the house for the night, after we had each shed our tears and gotten a little bit of sleep and found some forgiveness, we were able to regroup and say some hard, necessary apologies.
In the weeks that followed, I remember the feeling that Death was right at our doorstep, but Love was just as present, gathering us together by candlelight in the darkness. We survived somehow, although the feelings of thankfulness and peace and joy were slow coming.
There are some seasons of your life when it all just feels like too much, you know?
Instead of counting our blessings, Thanksgiving feels like a cruel cliche rubbed into our pain like salt on a wound. Instead of rearranging furniture for the Christmas tree, we find ourselves making room for a hospice bed. Instead of bringing everyone together for the big feasts of our childhood, we’re planning for a funeral. Instead of greeting the season with glad tidings and great joy, we’re saying goodbye to the life we knew.
It’s enough to make you scream and shout and weep and fall apart, and if you do, I want you to know, it’s okay. Everyone wants to act like the holidays are the time to have our ish together, all charming and cheerful like a freaking Norman Rockwell, but we all know it’s never really like that, even on our best days, right? Everyone will deal with the situation the best they know how, and sometimes that looks like the worst ever. And sometimes, it looks like starting over with an apology and a hug more comforting and life-giving than even mom’s sweet potato casserole.
Give each other space and forgiveness.
Give yourself space and forgiveness to grieve this season.
Grace is the blessing that is always present.