With the approach of Thanksgiving, I can’t help but think back to Thanksgiving 2012, my very first holiday following my husband’s sudden death. The grief fog was still very thick. Numbness created a comforting cushion around my body and emotions.
My husband had died in August. By the time November arrived, the loving family and friends who had gathered around me the first couple months had returned to their normal lives and I was on my own. The “dreaded firsts” were upon me, and I knew Thanksgiving was only the beginning.
Some wonderful friends invited me to their family Thanksgiving dinner that year. I’d spent many holidays with them when I was single, so this felt safe and comfortable. But I could still feel the enormity of this outing, if for no other reason, it was a solo drive (I’d had company on most of my drives since August).
My husband had loved to cook. He cooked for me, his kids, his friends, and the neighbors. Thinking about what to serve, shopping for the food, and preparing the meal brought him lots of joy. I was the sous chef, the audience, and the enthusiastic eater. So, each of our Thanksgivings together had been quite the event. Since his death, I dreaded grocery shopping because I never knew which aisle would bring me to tears from the memories of our being there together.
One thing he didn’t do was bake. He had a favorite German bakery that made our special occasion cakes. He also loved Marie Callender pies. As I sorted through household things after his death, I found quite an accumulation of Marie Callender pie tins.
I realized there was a Marie Callender’s restaurant close to my Thanksgiving destination, so I decided to turn in the stack of empty tins on the drive to my friend’s house. It would be good to get them out of the house (this felt like a manageable small step) and I would also get back the deposit money.
So, I left the house early, and drove to the shopping center.
As I approached the restaurant I noticed a long line of people that stretched half-way around the building. This puzzled me, but I didn’t give it a lot of thought (it truly didn’t penetrate the grief fog).
When I got to the restaurant door, I was stopped by a tall man (he literally blocked me). He asked what I needed. I looked up at him and said, “I’m returning my pie tins.”
I watch his expression turn into a huge question mark as he said, “Okay, come in and stand over by the counter.” Then he told a woman behind the counter I was returning my tins and went back to the front door.
While standing there waiting, I noticed (through my fog) that the restaurant certainly had a lot of customers today. I also noticed that the employees behind the counter were racing around gathering up lots of boxes and customers were walking out with large bags full of stuff. Boxes of pies. Boxes of food. I’m not sure how long I stood there. I do know that it was long enough for some of the fog to finally lift and I had the realization, “Oh, it’s Thanksgiving and people are picking up their dinners and desserts!”
What a revelation! Outside of my grief-focused self, the rest of the world was still doing its ordinary holiday routines. It was all around me, and I hadn’t been able to connect the dots.
Soon after this, the woman behind the counter asked me how she could help me and I said, “I’m returning my pie tins and just realized it’s Thanksgiving and this is probably a weird thing to do today.” She gave me a big smile and said I was definitely her easiest customer of the day. She took my tins and returned with my deposit money and wished me a happy Thanksgiving.
As I left the restaurant I was thinking Tony would have gotten a kick out of my doing this. The thought brought both tears to my eyes and a smile to my face.
When I told this story to friends later that day, we had quite a laugh. Then, at the Thanksgiving table, we shared things we were grateful for. I said I was grateful to have special friends who made me feel like family and were accepting of me and my fog.
In hindsight, I can see that:
- At one level, I knew it was Thanksgiving because it was causing me to sort through grief and memories and make decisions for myself.
- But at another level, my foggy self had failed to connect this thought with the world at large (grief does strange things like this). The world out there was still going through its holiday routines – including coming to Marie Callender’s and picking up pies!
What about you? Are you reading this article because you too are struggling with grief? Let’s talk. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.