Thanksgiving has passed and many of us spent the day as we usually do – with family. As always, there was food, rituals, football, after-dinner naps and, for those not willing to simply watch Black Friday unfold on the 11:00 news, a trip into the dark wilderness of bargains, bargains and more bargains. How many TVs or computers do we need? (Not enough to get me to risk being trampled at a Walmart just so I can sue the store when I don’t get the deal I wanted because they only stocked 2 in-store and the 200 people in front of me wanted the same item!)
What Thanksgiving is supposed to be is a whole day to be thankful for all the good things in our lives – the things we take for granted, but are much better off for having. I love the tradition of going around the Thanksgiving table and having each person say what they are thankful for. My family gives thanks through a short prayer, but the prayer leader usually names the things we’re all thinking about anyway – good health or healing, a new baby, family members who are not present and more. Thanksgiving is the one day of the year that everyone loves everyone else in the family. Even before the stores open on Black Friday, however, we’re back to being normal, dysfunctional families. Never mind missing our family who couldn’t make it to the Thanksgiving celebration – we’re just happy we didn’t have to put up with them for a whole day!
If we really think about it, whether we like it, or not – family is what holds us together – through shared memories and regardless of the real stories behind those memories. Often, the stories change depending on who is telling them, which, IMHO, is part of the fun of family get-togethers. In any case, as much as we may dread being with certain family members, we probably wouldn’t want it any other way and often express our disappointment when those family members aren’t present.
Holidays can be difficult for people dealing with chronic illness because illness doesn’t take the holidays off. The same can be said for people dealing with grief, unemployment, financial uncertainty or anything that affects them in a negative way. It’s a fine line we walk as we don’t want to ruin the family gathering, with depressing conversation, yet it can hurt when not one person asks “how are you?” I’m not talking about those we see often and keep in touch with – I’m talking about those we see once or twice a year. I used to take offense to what I perceived as their ignorance, but I’ve come to realize that it may be because those people simply don’t want to be reminded that many of their loved ones have life-altering issues – illness or otherwise and if they don’t acknowledge them, they don’t exist.
I am very open about having stage 4 breast cancer, yet I rarely (if ever) bring it up with friends or family – even on non-holidays. I know who is comfortable talking about it because they are the ones who always ask how I’m doing and seem genuinely interested in where I am with treatment and the disease, itself. I know who would never bring up the subject because they would rather believe that I’m fine now and always will be. It used to hurt me when those closest to me were (and still are) often the ones who would never even make a comment that might lead to someone else in the room asking me how I’m feeling. In the 6+ years since my stage 4 diagnosis, I have maneuvered my way through many family gatherings and am grateful if the person who leads our prayer before dinner and gives thanks to for the gift of healing. It doesn’t always come out that way, but that’s not what matters. We all need healing in one way or another and that simple acknowledgement is a gift, in itself.
It’s said that we can’t pick our family, Whoever came up with that statement was a very wise and insightful person who realized that dysfunction is inherent in every family, even on the days we come together to celebrate and be thankful for our blessings. We might not always see it that way and each family is different and unique in it’s own way. It is our expectations of what our family members should or shouldn’t do or say that blinds us to the reality of our responsibility to accept others as they are – not how we want them to be.
In the end, however, we all are touched by the gift of family. We just have to realize it and let go of our expectations of how our loved ones should behave. After all – they’re probably saying or thinking the same things about us that we are about them!
Don’t Stop Believing!
May you realize that even in your darkest moments, something wonderful and amazing can happen that will change your life and remind you to never stop living for those rays of light that will take away the dark.