Thanksgiving was at our house this year and in a sense it was the most relaxing one yet. This is the first year I wasn’t stressed about making the turkey since taking over that duty from my mom, more than a decade ago. My sister and I have tried to make it a bunch of different ways but slathering a mixture of butter and herbs de Provence between the skin and the meat makes the juiciest most delicious turkey so we stick with that recipe. My broccoli gratin was made in advance and the rest was potluck so while twenty-eight of us would gather around the table this year, I spent the day taking a walk, watching football and generally just waiting for the turkey to be done.
Thanksgiving day was warm, sunny and stunningly beautiful. My California sycamore seemed to glisten in the sun even as the leaves dropped gently to the ground. It was the kind of day Gus would have been running around the yard, kicking at leaves, agonizing over how long much longer he’d have to wait to dive into the turkey. I imagined his legs, which would have been by longer now, draped over the end of the couch as we watched the football games or episodes of Twilight Zone. I imagined I would have been trying to capture the family Christmas card picture while none of the boys cooperated. I willed myself not to cry.
Each year, before sitting for dinner, we go around the room taking turns expressing something for which we are most grateful for that year. Over the years, this tradition has taken on a life of its own as I imagine all traditions do and going around the room has been taking longer and longer because everyone seems to want to make a speech. I decided I would limit everyone to a single word this year. To make sure we were all listening to each other, I would ask that each person first say the word just said by the person next to them before adding their own and that we try not to repeat any sentiment or object of our gratitude already expressed. It would be a wonderful exercise in listening and being concise.
As the time neared for me to start off our expressions of gratitude I wondered what feeling or thing I would choose and if I could mean it. Grief can be unpredictable and devious and so while I thought I had somehow learned to co-exist with it, it has turned around and poked at me with much more ferocity than I expected this year. I have been missing Gus terribly this holiday season. I feel constantly sad and on the verge of tears most days. Another holiday without him, another year gone by. I reminded myself that Gus would not want me to be sad or make others sad and so when it was time, I slapped a smile across my face and gathered everyone around the table. After thanking everyone for joining us again, I said I was grateful for happiness and I began to mean it.
Allowing happiness to enter into our midst has been as difficult as the loss itself. Being happy seems wrong somehow as though it is an act of betrayal or a sign that we are “over it”. There is no getting over your losses, I still miss my grandmother now deceased thirty years, I miss my grandfather, my mother-in-law and I can’t imagine ever not missing Gus but I have to make a choice. I can either to wallow in the sadness or bask in the sunlight of happiness. I choose happiness because that is the best way to honor my baby boy who was always happy even when he was sick. The truth is there is much to be happy about, lots of “upsides”. I have great friends, an awesome family, a wonderful husband and two amazing, talented, funny older boys. I have lost weight and feel great about myself. I have extraordinary parking karma, finding a spot near where I need to go even when the lot is full. I have a job a like and I am taking a shot at doing what I always wanted to do – write. I am finally in a book club through which I was introduced to incredible books and authors. We have been fortunate to have had many opportunities to travel this year. We skied in Utah, visited my sister in New York, cruised through the Panama Canal, partied in Vegas a couple of times and next week we will head to Seattle to watch the Seahawks take on the 49niners. We must be happy because everywhere we go, Gus is with us. Our most recent and obvious encounter with him was when we stopped in Cabo San Lucas at end of our family cruise. Of all the places we could have chosen to stop for breakfast we just happen to pick the one restaurant that is permeated by the image of a figure with outstretched hands in a sign of victory much like Gus’ memorial picture. Thank you Gus for giving us happiness by your life on earth and from above in heaven.