In a little over 24 hours, Thanksgiving will be upon us (in the United States anyhow). A holiday seen as a time to gather the family around the dining room table (if you can get certain members of the family away from watching football in the other room) for a joyous festive meal. According to the movies, most of these meals are filled with awkward silence, lots of disagreement, raised voices, and then–after a fit of some kind by a member or two of the family, a nice dessert where everyone hugs and makes up, giving thanks for everyone present. My Thanksgiving won’t look like this.
One drawback of moving from Chicago to Phoenix some eighteen and a half years ago was our isolation from family. No aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters, parents–we were pretty much on our own. As our family grew, we started developing our own customs, our own small family Thanksgiving dinner. Unless the Bears were playing–or playing decently anyhow–there was no need to rip me from the television. In fact, as the family chef, I was already there with the food–I cooked it. We would corral the kids from their television or video games, and sit down to a nice family meal. Sometimes the meal would be followed by a silly trip to some store or another for the best early bird Thanksgiving, pre-Black Friday discounts. In more recent years, it was about enjoying time together and relaxing, ahead of the annual Thanksgiving Weekend hockey tournament. The Thanksgiving Weekend hockey tournament…
Last year, we started a new tradition–instead of spending lots of money and time cooking for our small family of four–a family not fond of turkey or cranberries, and definitely not fans of leftovers (except pizza)–we would go have a really nice dinner served to us. We would go to Fogo de Chao for a Brazilian-style Thanksgiving. While sitting at our table, Micah suggested that we pass the time by playing a game: guess or make up the conversations from other tables. Yes, it’s a very rude way to spend your restaurant time, but we did it (mostly) quietly, and all had one of our finest Thanksgiving meals. Laughing, talking, eating…no worries. Maybe we’d go see a movie after the meal, maybe not? It would have been a great tradition for the four of us to carry on–if only all four of us were still here.
Lots of people talk about why they’re thankful for the holidays. When you’ve suffered a loss–when your family has been ripped apart by the death of your son, your brother–it’s not about thankfulness. As I’ve said countless times, 2016 has seriously sucked. There isn’t anything good that’s happened in the past 11 months that I wouldn’t trade in a half-heartbeat to have Micah at our Thanksgiving table. Not the new house being built, not the turnaround of our financial situation, not even the Cubs first World Series victory since 1908–there isn’t anything I wouldn’t give up to have Micah back. Nothing.
Sure, it’s nice that the three of us are all relatively physically healthy. It’s fantastic that Avi’s had a great first semester of junior high. I’m grateful to those friends that have helped us get through this first 10 months without Micah–but I’m not feeling thankful. I’m feeling miserable. I’m surrounded by memories and images of death. I’m hearing about friends and relatives being threatened and terrorized by the recent wave of “acceptable” hatred and bigotry. I start to think about Micah, and my thoughts turn to what he would be saying right now about the recent election. What video games would he want me to grab on Black Friday? Would he still be playing hockey? What kind of team would he have been on? What music would he be practicing right now for the upcoming Winter Concert? Would he be getting ready for an audition?
Instead–I look into his dark, empty room. I pull together pictures for the suicide prevention walk we will do in his honor in two weeks. I will spend a good chunk of my weekend caught in the enigma that has become my life: working the hockey tournament that my son is not playing in, looking out and watching kids on the ice doing what Micah loved doing–but there’s no Micah any longer. There’s a 37 on my sleeve, or on my back–always in my heart–but not in front of me, not loading his gear in the hatchback of my car, not singing Frankie Valli tunes to his teammates.
I love my son. I love hockey. I love helping people. I don’t know what will happen this weekend. Will my love for hockey and helping people take control–or will my sorrow that Micah isn’t there? I don’t know. I can’t and won’t until it happens–or doesn’t.
It is almost midnight. I sit at this computer, typing out my thoughts–partially because I need to get them out, stop holding them inside, eating me whole, partially because my thoughts of Micah won’t let me sleep. At our grief group yesterday, I was reminded that there’s no expiration date for grief and loss–not that I didn’t realize this fundamental truth, but it was actually good to hear the reassurance that I’m not crazy. I’m just an injured soul with a torn heart that simply will never mend–it can’t. The missing piece is gone and cannot ever be replaced.
We were told, shortly after Micah passed away, that we would eventually get used to the “new normal.” The new normal is here, and I’m anything but used to it. I want Micah’s smile. I want Micah’s laughter. I want Micah’s kick-step-glide as he jumps off the bench and heads towards the net. I want my 37 on the ice and my tenor in the choir, not adorning my license plate.
I’ll have dinner on Thursday night with Cynthia and Avi. Not Thanksgiving–just dinner.