Four years ago, we snuggly sat around the rectangular table, six of us connected by the sides of our thighs. Surrounded by white china boarder guards, glass bowls, long platters, and hot plates filled nearly every square inch of the food-filled land of Thanksgiving. Our glasses sat, brimming with drink as we took turns speaking from our hearts, releasing the joys from our souls that usually go unannounced. With so much for which to be grateful, the barely-swelling belly hidden under my enlarged argyle knit sweater was number one.
As he was to my left, Jason revealed his thoughts seconds before me, “I am grateful to be here with all of you. I am especially grateful for the new little one that will be with us soon enough, and will join us next year for Thanksgiving.”
As tears lined the corners of my eyes, slight heart palpitations banged at my ribcage. Not a fan of being put on the spot, I had this planned out minutes ago when we began. And now I have nothing original.
He took mine! Now what do I say?
“Mine is the same. We are pretty lucky to be adding another person to this family.”
With smiles and approving nods, I released the breath that was held hostage in my lungs; it was okay I had the same gratitude as Jason. This was the best thing that could happen to anyone wanting a family. This was the best thing to happen to us.
Less than a month later, Sophia’s fate was sent in a tailspin. Less than two weeks after that, she was gone.
As another Thanksgiving approaches, it is difficult to disallow the sadness to join me at the table. It is like a shadow: sensed but intangible. Laughter and chatter; time away from work duties and household chores; and copious portions of comfort food all usher us into the holiday season. All mellow the daily, fleeting, heavy memories of Sophia and our other two losses. Some days it is hard to not keep tears at bay, my emotions raw and sharp like a tooth with an exposed nerve. Some days I wish my story were different, one of giddy children and blissful ignorance of child loss. Some days I struggle to remember the happy times before our losses. Some days I long to remember our precious, delicate moments we spent with Sophia.
Regularly pulling myself out of a dark, grief-filled pit of self-loathing, I force myself to count my blessings. It is the only savior in a world of loss. Even when my will does not live up to my logic, I methodically begin listing: I have an affectionate husband and a fun marriage; I was raised in a solid family with loving parents and a wonderful big sister; my grandmother is still with us (and better off than most) despite some major health set backs; I am generally very healthy; My husband is generally very healthy; I have married into a second family who accepts and loves me as if I were their daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece; we live comfortably, and while we are not wealthy, we do all right for ourselves; we get to raise the most adorable furry pug, Rocky.
This list never changes. Each day these items receive mental tics as I note their importance.
My list rounds out with a deep inhalation and these words: I am the mother of Sophia Grace. I am the mother of Baby Two and Baby G.
Today I came across an article by Angela Miller who lost a son. While her experiences differ greatly from mine, her poignant words are so familiar matching each emotion, plea, and wish that thrive as the basis of each of my thoughts.
For those who have gone through a loss, may you find a way to count your blessings alongside your grief. We are allowed both; it is healthy to have both. Life is dichotomous. Our emotions can be too.
As bereaved parents we are forced to learn the art of holding infinite space for both/and– because this new life we didn’t ask for is now a heartbreaking juxtaposition of contradictions. Our hearts hold both the blessings and the trials, the joy and the pain, the white meat and the dark meat on the same blessed fork.
We are grateful and we are grieving.
The former can’t cure the latter, and the latter doesn’t negate the former. Nor were they meant to. Yes, grieving parents are incredibly thankful for every single blessing in their life, and that also doesn’t negate the truth of the sorrow in their heart. If only the world could learn to hold the space for both too so bereaved parents could catch a break at the table of thanks every once in awhile.
This Thanksgiving, be so very grateful if your table is as full as it should be, for that is truly the greatest blessing there is. And in your thanksgiving please remember those of us who come to the table with a grieving heart. Remember to hold space for us bereaved parents too. Leave room for the truth of how hard the holidays are for those who are missing our very hearts– and be thankful if you’re lucky enough to have every single one of your children sitting at the table with you.
-Angela Miller, Still Standing Magazine, November 27, 2013
See the full text of Angela Miller’s piece here: Grateful and Grieving