Some of us will be carrying both emotions to the Table this Thanksgiving.
On September 22, 2022 my husband and I lost our precious second son, Daniel Jeremiah Rios. It was his 23rd birthday and it was a shock. Although, his last 2 years were in and out of the hospital and he did have a condition that could have taken him at any time, that wasn’t what finally took him. He died of cardiac arrest in our home at 4:30 AM. We believe the pain of his newest condition Gastroparesis was just simply too much for his little body to take after a lifetime of taking so much.
It’s been two months since he passed. Our lives are simply emptier without our baby boy. We realized since he has been gone that he was a giant source of our joy. YES. Even in his condition, having gone through 30 surgeries, enduring yet another condition, he was a happy boy and he brought joy to our home. Our home just hasn’t been the same and we acknowledge that it never will be.
On this Thanksgiving, we are grateful for many things, of course. But we are still grieving. I’ve mentioned in many of my social media posts that both grief and gratitude can coexist in our hearts. But that means our strength will look different than in seasons past. It may look a little less sure. A little less bold. A little less consistent. BUT IT IS STILL THERE AND IT IS STILL STRENGTH.
The other day, I read a post that said “Our world is grief-illiterate.” And it hit me because finding myself on this side of grief, I have found that to be true. This world often rushes to get to the place where they don’t have to see or feel pain. Andrea Held Opelt wrote in her book, A Hole in the World: Finding Hope in Rituals of Grief and Healing, “Western society at large has developed a deep aversion to pain. We are experts at numbing hurt, drugging discomfort, and palliating narratives that offend our sense of comfort or safety. We speak in euphemisms. We think in euphemisms. We put our best face forward on social media.”
Isn’t that true? I found it to be so. I’ve found so many do not know how to bring comfort to the grieved. I mean, some people who I thought were friends have yet to even call me. Some say “I am giving them space.” But what they mean is I am ignoring them until they come out of the grief cave. Friends, the grieving don’t want to be ignored or forgotten, they want to be seen for where they are right now.
I often feel like people are expecting you not only to move on but to be your former self. That has a very low likelihood of happening…ever again. My former self is gone. Even as a Jesus follower, I am going to be on this grief journey for an undetermined amount of time and emerge from this life-altering loss different. That should be ok to those who love me. Andrea goes on in her book to say, “the ability to grieve deeply is a survival skill, one we’ve come close to losing as a society. The only way to experience sorrow is to do so wholeheartedly. Sometimes we have to allow grief to have its way with us for a while. We need to get lost in the landscape of grief. It is a wild and rugged wilderness terrain to be sure, but it is here that we meet our truest selves.”
My family and I are in this wilderness today. Perhaps you will have someone at your table today that is in this rugged terrain. Be mindful. There are days when a grieving person laughs, enjoys distractions and outwardly looks like they are not experiencing devastation. But know that underneath all that grieving people are always thinking and feeling the loss of their loved one. Allow them the space they need even if it is to walk away from the table.
As a mother who has lost her child, I feel like a big part of myself is gone. Perhaps the better part. The part of me that was pure, innocent, joyful, content is gone.
My husband and I miss him terribly even while we hold on to our faith and to Jesus. We stand on the truth that “the Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves tose who are crushed in Spirit” (Ps 34:18). Even while we may bless the name of the Lord in our grief, we are not faking where we are. Because as Andrea also stated in her book, “It takes a lot of courage to simply be sad, to relinquish control and call off the search for an explanation.”
On this Thanksgiving Day, also known as the national day of mourning in the Native American tradition to observe the tragic role this day played in the lives of their ancestors, I feel I am doing both. Giving thanks and mourning. But, it’s okay to ask me about my greatest blessing and my deepest sorrow, Daniel Jeremiah Rios. Speaking about him keeps his memory alive.
So friends, enjoy your day, especially if it can be celebrated with thanks and no grief in sight. There is always so much to be grateful for. But for those of you reading this that may be remembering the loss of a loved one on this day, know that you don’t need to meet anyone’s expectations. You can enter the room carrying both grief and gratitude to the table. We can be grateful while grieving. Happy Thanksgiving.