An hour after I arrived at the hospital, large, wet snowflakes began to fall. It was my turn to work the Thanksgiving holiday day shift. The patients assigned to me that day watched the snow fall and reminisced about past Thanksgivings. They mused about how good the snow was for the deer hunters, but bad for families traveling to Grandma’s house.
Our unit was quiet and relatively empty because not everyone elects to have surgery right before a holiday. By mid-afternoon I felt restless, frequently checking the time and peering out the window to see if the weather had changed. The last hour of the shift ticked by slowly. By then it was colder outside and the snowflakes were smaller. A stiff wind whirled them around the hospital parking lot.
My shift finally ended and I cautiously drove home to change into holiday clothing. I felt as excited as a child let out early from school. Refreshed, I got back into the car and headed to the farm where my husband grew up. Arnie would already be there, but out in the woods hunting until dark, unless he had already shot a deer! In any case, he and his brothers would be back in time to eat their Thanksgiving dinner together with the whole family.
My husband was the eldest of a large family. So far, only he and his brother, Rodney, were married. Rodney’s wife, Karen, and I would be the only daughters-in-law at the table. We were newlyweds.
The following year I didn’t have to work on Thanksgiving Day, so a few hours after sending Arnie off to hunt for the day, I went to my parent’s house to eat a fancy noon meal with them. Then, I left for the evening meal with my in-laws.
This became my Thanksgiving traditions for many years. The routine seemed to be set in stone, although there were small changes along the way. More sisters-in-law joined Karen and me at the table. Then, babies started to show up wearing cute holiday bibs.
After fourteen years of marriage my set-in-stone routine began to change more significantly. First, Daddy died. He was sorely missed at our family gatherings. Then my mother and father-in-law decided to move to another community, ending Thanksgiving meals at their farm. Shortly after that, macular degeneration suddenly took away most of my mother’s sight.
It was time for me to step up to the bat. I had never pictured myself making the large Thanksgiving meal, but I dove into the job. Remembering how one of the ladies I worked with had said she baked her turkey inside of a brown paper bag, I decided to try the same trick. Much to my surprise, my meal turned out very well.
Each year since then, my family gathers at my place for an evening Thanksgiving meal, whether I had to work at the hospital that day or not. In any case, the great turkey slowly roasts in a low heat oven for a full half day.
Mom and my brothers always came for the meal, but as Mom aged, she wanted to go home after the meal sooner and sooner each year. This routine went on for year after year and seemed to be set in stone, but I was older by then and knew that life constantly changes. I recognized the time as a moment of grace…the calm period where you know change is coming, but you enjoy what you have and are thankful.
When the changes came, they were bigger than I had ever expected. Some changes were welcomed with joy. My daughter Niki married Mike and started a big family. We extended our already large dining room table. Some changes were borne with grief. Mom died. Then two years later my husband Arnie died. Mike died eight years after that.
During the holidays, we are hyper-aware of missing family members. Their absence at the holiday table is more poignant than usual. It really hurts to not have them there.
Although the sense of loss never really disappears, my happy, lovely memories of these sweet people who were once a part of my everyday life has become my focus. We will be reunited once again someday. From experience, I know that the sadness in losing a loved one is not set in stone, unless I want it to be.