Disclaimer: this isn’t a happy post. But it’s one I need to get off of my chest. My hope in sharing this with you is that you make the most of every day you have with family- Thanksgiving Day and every day.
This is very, very, very hard for me to admit- I am not a fan of Thanksgiving.
Actually, scratch that. I’ll say exactly how I feel- I do NOT like Thanksgiving.
Now don’t go judging me right off the bat and think I’m an ungrateful, heartless person. I am thankful for my life and the people in it *every single day*, and grateful for all I have. But Thanksgiving means something very different to me than it does to most people.
Most people anticipate the 4th Thursday in November with excitement and appreciation… Planning menus, making travel plans to reunite with family, knowing that all the orange and yellow fall decor will soon be ushered out and replaced with twinking lights and Christmas trees and packages wrapped with paper.
I? Get a knot in the pit of my stomach. Followed by a tightening in my chest as that 4th week on the calendar arrives. When people ask me what my Thanksgiving plans are? My hands get clammy and my body starts to feel flush. Thoughts of large, bustling, family-filled dining rooms overwhelm me greatly. The day before Thanksgiving? There is a lump in my throat that will not budge. This warm, happy, love-filled holiday has been transformed for me, and as hard as I try I’ve never been able to look at it the same.
12 years ago this sleepy 16 year old crawled out of bed in her second floor bedroom and headed to the staircase, ready to begin the long-standing Thanksgiving tradition routine. Morning coffee. A warm blanket on the couch. Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on the TV, with the volume turned extra high to drown out the cooking sounds from mom in the kitchen.
But as I sleepily made my way down the staircase, I stopped halfway- there were no chipper cooking sounds coming from the kitchen. Only sobbing.
Something is wrong. Something is very wrong.
“They’re gone.” My mother said simply. “The Foleys are gone.”
What do you mean ‘The Foleys are gone’? I thought with confusion. How does a family of 4 just disappear?
“They went to their tract of hunting land in Kansas for Thanksgiving, and were staying in the mobile home they’d put on the property. There was a fire last night, honey… Nobody survived. I’m so sorry.”
Jim and Donna- My parents’ very best friends, close since childhood. My godparents.
James (“Jimbo”) and Joseph (“Connor”)- My godbrothers, ages 13 and 9.
Their 2 hunting dogs.
We found out that the the barbecue smoker on the back deck, containing the Thanksgiving turkey, somehow knocked over in the night… I remember someone saying that the back deck has been recently re-sealed, and so the fresh chemicals took quickly to flame. The fire consumed the trailer. And since they were in the middle of a patch of private land, nobody was around to stop it. The scene wasn’t discovered until early the next morning, when a farmer on nearby land saw a faint trail of smoke in the distance and went to investigate.
The rest of Thanksgiving that day went on just as planned, in theory. Food was cooked, family arrived for dinner. But needless to say, there was nothing jovial about the scene. Everyone was numb, robotic. The spirited political debates that were a mainstay of the holiday dinner table had been replaced with discussions of when we were going to pack up and head to Kansas to help prepare for the wake and the funeral.
I just remember thinking over and over again – “How am I’m supposed to be thankful for THIS?!”
There was a long, weary roadtrip from Colorado to my parents’ hometown in Kansas. A traditional wake held in the home of my godfather’s parents- a stately victorian mansion in the center of town, gorgeously decorated inside but now holding a jarring addition- 2 coffins in the living room. My godparents in one, godbrothers in another.
Funeral. Burial. The long car ride home. An attempt to pick up the pieces.
I know that Thanksgiving is used as a time to verbalize your appreciation for friends, family, and the gifts God has given you. But I can’t help but also think of the gifts God has taken away on this day.
I’ll still be celebrating this year, mind you, but in the way I feel most comfortable- a day full of mind-distracting cooking (and wine), followed by a casual late-afternoon dinner of turkey, Tofurkey, and all the trimmings. Just my husband and I, in our PJs. Followed by 364 more days of being thankful for everything in my life.