Yesterday was Thanksgiving. It has become everybody’s favorite holiday because the day includes all of the best parts of Christmas without the commerciality and gift drama. In my case, my immediate family gathers in New Jersey at my sister’s home and we eat too much and laugh the perfect amount.
Sadly, we were missing my aunt and cousins, which feels a little like going outside without a coat – incomplete and a little chillier. They weren’t there because my cousin’s boyfriend had recently lost his father, this was the first Thanksgiving without him, and they all chose to stay in and celebrate (and mourn) with his mother. This was the right decision, of course, but I can’t help missing them.
That’s the thing about holidays, right? They can serve as a sort of magnifying glass, bringing the sadness we can carry all year into focus. We picked up my mom early, and I purposefully drove the neighborhood streets my dad used to drive – the streets that are ancillary, totally unnecessary, only adding time and distance to the trip. I did that because there is an empty chair at Thanksgiving forever. He loved to eat as much as I do, though he was much messier leaving corn, crumbs, and anything else in his mustache. (I have no hard evidence for this, but I believe he had that mustache because Magnum P.I. had the greatest mustache and my mom, like everyone else, loved the way Magnum P.I. looked.) I miss him and I feel his absence on holidays the most.
This isn’t a terrible thing, by the way. It only feels like it is for the first few years, then that searing pain become an ache, which dulls over time, never fully disappearing.
So, I love my sister’s dog, Ty. He loves me, too. You might think you’ve met the best dog, but you’re wrong. He is. He’s a pit bull mix that looks a lot like the living gargoyles in the first Ghostbusters movie. He’s a gentle giant, who could shred bad guys but who probably wouldn’t. The odds are very high that he wouldn’t, but not zero, which only makes him more and more awesome. Every time I get there, I hug the humans, then settle in with my dog and pet him for as long as we do.
He is aging, he’s a big old guy now, and when we left, I stayed after everyone went outside and kissed him on his nose and told him through tears how much I love him and how thankful I was that he was there, just in case. One of these holidays, he won’t be there.
Ty isn’t my dad, or my cousin’s boyfriend’s mom, or the many empty chairs in our homes and lives, but let me tell you why I said earlier that it ‘wasn’t a terrible thing,’ which I intentionally understated. Not only isn’t it terrible, but it is one of the absolute greatest gifts we can ever receive.
You don’t remember everyone, people pass away every minute of every day. We remember, we mourn for, and our hearts break out loud for those who made space (and who we made space for) to live in our lives. We shed those tears, our stomach’s hurt, our chest tightens, because they mattered to us in ways very few do. Their impact was heavy and left/leaves us forever different, forever transformed. My dad’s passing broke me and when I healed, broken pieces still visible just not sharp anymore, I was very very different. Most of the parts of me you like best were forged in that season, where, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Jesus was in the fire with me, holding me, comforting me, whispering in my ear that this suffering was a gift, too. I didn’t exactly believe him then, but I sure do now.
When Ty isn’t on his bed for a future Thanksgiving, I’ll miss him, and as I do, I’ll thank the God of Everything that I do. I will have loved this dog, this beautiful blessing, and what could be better than to have loved? Nothing, that’s what.
And this is why I hug so well, why I tell you how much you matter so much (and sometimes so uncomfortably), why I hold hands too long, why I cry often, why I ask so many questions, listen, overshare and allow my emotions to rest on the outside of my skin. Because I am finally awake, and being alive and awake means that I am grateful for all of it.
Happy Thanksgiving everyone.