Thanksgiving has been my favorite holiday all my adult life. I love it because it has always been uncomplicated. The powers of commerce have not figured out how to exploit it. We gather with our loved ones, feast, and express our gratitude to Whomever and Whatever has blessed us at this time in this place with the gifts of life and of love with these dear people. The fact is, we all have cause for gratitude. Even if we don’t know Who or What to thank. This is one of the most compelling reason for me to believe in God. Who else could I thank for all the goodness in my life which I did not and could not arrange for myself?
This Thanksgiving was complicated. We were all conflicted. Despite losing Rachel, I knew the family had cause for gratitude. But we could not ignore the empty place at the table. I was asked to say grace. At our last family gathering, after a trip to Chiloquin, Oregon, I broke down in tears and had to excuse myself from the table when I asked the blessing. Rachel should have been there. She had been there the last time. At Thanksgiving, I held my tears and choked back the lump in my throat and focused on the positive: we were glad to be together; we were thankful for the bounty at the table; we were grateful for the joyful news that Lindsay and Brian were expecting a baby boy.
Our last memories of Rachel are of the holidays. Because she was living away from “home” attending school in southern California, we saw her at the traditional holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year. Though the last nine months have been long and dreadful, time has folded upon itself as it pertains to Rachel. The memories feel so recent and vivid, the intervening time seems like a dream. A nightmare. The holidays will be forever haunted by her absence.
Thanksgiving highlighted the struggle for me. I am at a loss to account for what has happened to my beautiful daughter, my family, my life. The good things I expected are lost to me now. There will be unexpected joys, but not the ones I imagined and feel entitled to: Rachel’s bodily presence, her love, her marriage, her children, the marvel and mystery of her life as it unfolds...And still, I know, I have reason to be thankful. To have loved her is more goodness than I could ever have expected, than I could ever have deserved. That she is gone now and I am returned to that state of deprivation I never knew to regret before she entered this world causes me to reflect: knowing what I have lost, am I better off now...or worse? I can only conclude that I am grateful to have known her. It is painful beyond words to miss her. Her death was so unnecessary, so ridiculously preventable; and for that I am angry. Still. I am grateful for her life and her love, and I would be remiss not to offer the thanks that are due for the miracle and blessing she was, and still is to me even in death.
I had a dream the other night that was an answer to an unspoken prayer, the dearest desire of my heart: Rachel came back to me, as an eight-year-old little girl. I knew it could not last, but I held her, just held her and stroked her long, beautiful, silky hair. Jill laughed at me because I brought her back as an eight year old, but this was my dream, and the fulfillment of the longing of my heart: the sweet, uncomplicated affection of her childhood, her unreserved bodily presence.
I have returned again and again to Gratefulness.org to ground my grief in thankfulness. As horrible and miserable as losing Rachel has been, I constantly try to remind myself to be grateful for the sweetness and the goodness I have known because of her. I light a candle and weep. I could easily and justifiably become an angry old bastard. But I know that would dishonor Rachel. I can’t see my way through this grief, but I know when I come out the other side I want to be a better person. I believe, somehow, that thankfulness, gratefulness, gratitude - whatever you call it - is the only bridge, the lifeline of love that still connects me to Rachel and the person I want to be.