Gratitude and Loss …

I’m on an airplane on my way to Palm Springs. The plane is soaring over a blanket of fluffy, cotton clouds that will dissipate the farther south we go. We’re flying in to sunshine and ninety-degree weather. My sister has a beautiful home, and a salt-water pool. We’ll celebrate Thanksgiving with turkey and dressing and mashed potatoes and cranberries. We’ll enjoy our feast poolside, around a table with a built-in fire pit. We’ll probably have too much wine.

I’ll go for a walk and admire the palm trees lining the streets. I’ll marvel at the brilliant azure sky contrasting with the pale, dusty mountains that tower over Susan’s home. We’ll laugh until our bellies hurt. We’ll play games, and we’ll spend a lot of time in that pool. The perfect Thanksgiving. Sounds idyllic.

Doesn’t it?

But on my way to work this morning, I was struck with a sadness so deep, so empty, that it took my breath away. I pulled over. Pressed my forehead against the steering wheel. Thinking back to a sweet spot in my life. In my family’s life. To a Thanksgiving more than twenty-five years before. Justin was about eight, I think. All four of my grandparents were alive. My sisters and I were happy in our marriages, and our four children were whole and healthy. My parents were vibrant and strong.

But this year, we’re scattered. Fragmented. My son will spend the holiday with his girlfriend’s family in Washington. My sister, Neil, and Izzy will stay home to look after their animals. My nephew, Chris will join them from Montana. They have friends joining them, too. They’ll have a fun, raucous, unconventional holiday.

I have another niece and a nephew, estranged from the family, who will be somewhere. I don’t know where.

I am so full of gratitude for what I have. For my parents, who are still the adventurous, fun-loving, consistent mom and dad they have always been. For my son, who has grown up to be a remarkable young man. His girlfriend, who I love like my own daughter. My sisters. Izzy. Neil. Dennis. Innumerable friends, more precious than gold.


But that gratitude is tempered by the experiences that have formed today’s reality. To juxtapose the memory of my healthy boy with the young man who struggles every day with his damaged body. To remember those times before great loss. Before divorce. Before mental illness and substance abuse. Before my nephew’s Purple Heart.

I know by Thursday, the gratitude will win. It always wins. But the older I get, the messier it all becomes. Gratitude and loss have become inextricably bonded. So today, I’ve spent some time grieving. But tomorrow , I’ll get on with the business of living in the moment. With joy, and laughter, and one spectacular cannonball. There is a pool here, after all …

10 thoughts on “Gratitude and Loss …”

  1. Beautifully written, those moments sometimes steal our breath, shred our hearts for a few beats, and yet there is sunshine

  2. What a great post Deborah! I really love this one! We are here to experience all the good, the bad, and the ugly that this life has to offer. We can only hope that in the end we are lucky enough to experience more good than bad. You have an amazing family and I can see all the love shining through. Those of us that still have our parents and siblings around are truly blessed! Have a wonderful Thanksgiving my friend!

  3. I am so excited for our first Thanksgiving at our new home, it will be wonderful I am sure. However, I had a similar experience (making cranberry jello salad which my mom used to make and Dan’s dad made too) missing my mom, Dan’s dad… wishing they could have met. My sister is still on assignment for FEMA and Austin and Dan are working today.
    You definitely are not alone in those moments of deep sadness and you captured it perfectly. We all are a sum of the experiences and life we have lived so far. I would not be able to appreciate where I am today and how truly blessed I am without the heart wrenching times but I miss those days in the past when we were all together.
    So today it’s up early to meet Austin for breakfast before he heads in to cook and serve for McMenamins, visit with my dad and then home to enjoy the meal with a great group of friends and family.
    I love seeing you frolick in the pool! Enjoy the day and time with your family!!

  4. Just found your blog, Deborah. My extended family has spent the past two Thanksgivings in Palm Springs. It is also bittersweet for us. My sister-in-law lived there and she was very ill in 2016, hence the reason for gathering in the desert. She passed away a few days later, it we decided to make it a new tradition. Maybe next year we’ll meet for coffee or a drink!

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