I lifted the lid of the crockpot and we peered in, her soft brown hair swishing against my cheek as she leaned in for a closer look. She was the first to giggle and her merry chortle filled the kitchen.
“Mama! It really is the world’s tiniest turkey!” she laughed. The way her eyes sparkled, I knew she was imagining this tiny turkey strutting around on teensy legs, with miniature feathers colorfully spread. I was still laughing as I carved the meat and arranged the side dishes on the dining table – in small bowls, to match our diminutive bird, to match our perfect, tiny family and our tiny celebration. Smashed sweet potatoes, green beans, corn, hot rolls, appetizer sausage balls for Daddy who wouldn’t touch poultry. French silk pie for dessert.
“C’mon, guys!” I called and they wandered in from the front room. Beary danced around, still excited about the Macy’s parade. Kevin followed, a little slower, shuffling to his chair. He sank into it heavily, then placed his infusion bag to the side. The smell of food wasn’t bothering him too much, yet, and I hoped he could manage a few bites of something.
We joined hands and he prayed and it was Thanksgiving. Thanks-giving. My favorite one. Just the three of us, eating, laughing, talking. Quiet, reflective. Dinner, dishes, then the Cowboys on TV. Thankful for the moments we had together, the black infusion bag dark on the table, an aching, stark reminder of how precious life is.
Through it all, we gave thanks. And it was easy, because we were together.
I’m actually feeling hypocritical this week, asking the Bear to list the things she’s thankful for this year. Because if she turned the table – if she asked me to list what I’m thankful for…I don’t know. I could toss off the few obvious ones and, if I could distract her watchful eyes and wise soul, she’d probably be satisfied, but the truth is this:
I’m finding it hard to to give thanks this year.
I have so much and I am thankful for all of it. I have a beautiful daughter and we have each other and a warm home and clothes to wear and food to eat. And we can freely worship in our church each week. And we have wonderful friends and family who have poured love over us over the last seven months – so much love and care and concern. I have Kevin’s love inside me, and his essence inside our Bear, and beautiful pieces of the life we created. I have so much, so very much.
There is a hole, an ache.
I don’t have Kevin.
Who will watch “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” with me, pausing the movie every time I jump up to check on the pie in the oven? I’d never even seen that movie before Thanksgiving eve 2002 and now I can’t imagine the holiday without it. I remember thinking, “I can’t watch a movie now. Doesn’t he know I’ve got all these pies to bake?” But he insisted and he pulled me down in his lap until I relaxed and started laughing with him. For the last ten years – no matter what – we’ve watched it. Even if we had to stay up until midnight because of a culinary catastrophe. Even if we had to watch it in black & white because something wasn’t hooked up quite right on his mom’s television. We watched it.
I don’t have Kevin.
I have memories and a barely-beating heart and an empty bed with a lumpy pillow. I have silent screams and tear-wet cheeks and hands clenched in prayer. I am trying to remember to count my blessings and trust God in all things and find the buried bits of joy that let me push through another impossible day.
But I don’t have Kevin.
I remember the world’s tiniest turkey and a dancing Bear and our happiest Thanksgiving. It makes me smile.
And now it’s all jumbled together, the smiles and the tears and the heartaches and the joy and the grief and the thanks and the giving and the losing and it’s messy and mashed-up and emotional.
And all I can think of are Del Griffith’s words, from a movie I don’t know if I can watch this year:
“I wish you were here with me right now. But…I guess that’s not gonna happen.”