I’ve been thinking about upcoming holidays and in thinking about them, one comes to mind as being particularly difficult: Thanksgiving.
It’s a day to give thanks for all of the blessings in your life. What’s difficult when you’ve only just recently lost someone important to you is to find much of anything to be thankful for. It’s easy to overlook that there are still things.
Not being a particularly religious person, my Thanksgiving rituals with my girls have focused less on religious affirmations and prayers and more on being thankful for the things that we have. Every year, I have everyone around the table say what they are thankful for; a tradition I’m sure is common on this particular day. I’ve tried to imagine what I will say and what my girls will say when we’ve lost so much and are drowning in a world filled with endless cruelty. What do we have to be thankful for when so much has been taken from us? And in thinking about that, I’ve realized that there is still so much. So, I’ve come up with some thoughts that I want to share now, so that I have the strength to share them then.
I know I’ve probably written about this before, but it’s worth repeating. There are a lot of memories I have of Jon and none of them is more important than another. But there is one that seems more significant in a scenario of giving thanks.
Before Jon, I was in a terribly abusive relationship. Not physically, but emotionally. It ended abruptly and painfully and I was lost in a new world of loneliness and rejection. Shortly after I started dating Jon he planned what was probably one of the most romantic nights I have ever had. He made a picnic on the rooftop of the apartment where he lived. He took me up there and I found two chairs at the edge of the roof overlooking the entire downtown skyline and you could just barely see the water a few blocks down the road. He had strawberries and cheese and crackers and beer and wine so I could have whatever I was in the mood for that night – you never knew. He didn’t know all of what I had been through, just that it was awful. I told him every detail even though I was ashamed and embarrassed. I felt like I could trust him. I felt like he’d understand that it didn’t make me a bad person that bad things were done to me. After hours talking on the roof that night, we climbed back down to go back to his apartment. As we were standing in front of his doorway, him fumbling for his keys to let us in, I said to him that I wished I could take it all back and make it so it never happened. He stopped fumbling with the keys to look at me, and with what seemed like arms growing out of his ears he said to me, “I don’t.”
More arms grew out of his ears and I scoffed, “why would you not want me to be able to take away such an awful experience?” His answer was endearing at the time, but eerily relevant now, “because it made you who you are now, the person that I’m falling in love with, and if it didn’t happen, maybe you wouldn’t be so perfect for me.”
I’ve thought about those words before; before he was gone. I’ve always thought of his wisdom and been impressed. But now, well, they seem even more wise. What happened to me before Jon did change me and in retrospect made me a better and stronger person. It made me want to be better. Now the terrible thing that happened isn’t the loss of an abusive relationship, it’s the loss of the best one I’ve ever had. The loss of a relationship that grew me as a person; one that helped my children be better people too. But the experience, once I’ve sufficiently survived, will have made me stronger, maybe even better. And it will do that for my girls too. There’s no arguing that Jon’s presence in our life was a powerful and bettering force, but to imagine his loss as being a similar force is hard to swallow. But if we don’t better ourselves for him, what is the point in his loss?
I used to believe that everything happens for a reason. Not necessarily that there is some grand purpose in our lives, but that in a holistic sense, we are all predestined to only be handed that which we can endure. All of our triumphs and challenges are part of a process. This, quite clearly, has become a part of our process – mine, my girls’, his parents and siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles. His being here was part of that process too.
And already, I’ve found myself a different person. Things that once peeved me no longer do. Things that seemed burdensome seem mundane. Working late is welcomed now. I have a new sense of need to accomplish more – for me, but more so for Jon because it’s what he would want. My girls remind me sometimes that Jon told them and taught them certain things. Don’t try to put the whole ravioli in your mouth, cut it first. Don’t stall when it’s time to go to bed. And a common sentence has popped up in our house that always begins with the words, “what would Jon say?”
I carry the prayer card from his funeral in my purse and I look at it often. We joke about the typo – open your yes – but the first words on that card are so relevant, “you can shed a tear because I’m gone or you can smile because I was here.” What more is there to be thankful for to have had a soul like Jon’s in your life?
If anything, I’m left with regret that he didn’t get to see things through. He didn’t get to see me walk down the aisle. He didn’t get to see me in my wedding dress. He didn’t get to have that first fight as a married couple or enjoy all the things we had planned for retirement. He didn’t get to watch the girls grow up or teach them to drive a stick shift the way he so looked forward to. He won’t get to see them graduate from high school or college or know what it feels like to have grandchildren. He didn’t get to take that cross country cycling tour we planned for once the kids were all out of the house. These were all things we talked about late at night when we should have been sleeping and I’m pissed that the universe robbed him of those opportunities. But without me, without the girls, he wouldn’t have ever known what it was to really love. He wouldn’t have known what it was like to be a dad; to know that it can be simultaneously maddening and rewarding. He wouldn’t have known that he was better than answering phones and talking to morons all day long. He wouldn’t have known that there was a life for him outside of video games. He wouldn’t have known that he was the smartest, most capable man to ever walk the planet – at least in someone’s eyes. I gave him that. He died with love in his heart. He died proud of himself for probably the first time in his life. He went to sleep that night excited for our girls to come home and with the thought that we were going to immediately take them camping to show them all the things we had seen. He died knowing that, for the first time in his life, he could give the people closest to him the experiences that we once daydreamed about, but couldn’t afford. Hell, we even had a conversation about Lexi’s first car.
We gave him that. We gave him happiness. He gave us happiness. And he didn’t take it away when he left. He just postponed it a bit. It’s still there.
So, for all that rambling, here’s what I’m thankful for:
I’m thankful for the love I never thought I’d find
I’m thankful for the strength I never believed I had
I’m thankful for the lessons I never could have shared
I’m thankful for the memories I never thought I’d have
I’m thankful for the person I never thought I’d be
I’m thankful for the family I never knew existed
I’m thankful for being loved in a way I never knew I could
I’m thankful for the independence I never knew existed
Most of all I’m thankful for the future I know he’ll help me find.
I’m thankful for having three years of wisdom to guide me through all the times I forget I’m grateful.
I’m thankful for Jon.
Thank you baby, for leaving me with so many things to be thankful for and only one to regret, that I can’t tell you in person and that I never got the chance to realize just how much it meant to be a part of your life. I know you knew, but I never told you in so many words. You’re gone, but never forgotten.
I will always love you, but I will continue to live and give thanks. To you and to everything you left.