Tag Archives: Thanksgiving

Expressing Thanks

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops color and texture onto an old photo of herself and her mother for a post about expressing thanks and appreciation.In the last seconds of my father’s life I told him, “Thank you.” Throughout our time together, I’d always thanked him for gifts and meals in fancy restaurants. And as the plug was pulled on his life support, I wanted the last words he heard to be, “Thank you, Dad.” In a desperate final instant I added, “for making my life—richer,” not able to find the right words to thank him for who he’d been or what he meant to me. Ever since, I’ve been haunted, wondering what on earth he could make of those words, if he even heard them, lying there unconscious and on his way out of this world.

My mother taught her daughters well, to say those two words. Thank you. And in similar fashion, although maybe not with the same consistent results, I taught my own children to acknowledge peoples’ kindnesses. But expressing the deepest, most sincere thankfulness—beyond the simple etiquette of responding to someone’s generosity—is different. That does not come easily for many of us. It’s kind of like exposing yourself, your vulnerability. It often involves trying to tiptoe around some unresolved issues that stand in the way. It sometimes involves fear. Conveying your appreciation might lead to a long awkward silence. It might turn you inside out. Or turn the one you’re thanking inside out. To communicate a genuine acknowledgment of sheer gratitude is to face all the ups and downs in the history of that relationship. And if the relationship is a complicated one, any response you get might send you racing from the room to hide in the nearest closet.

Here it is days away from Thanksgiving, the time we typically express our thanks. And not only should I NOT need this holiday to come forth with my gratitude, I should NOT be waiting until the ends of people’s lives to let them know they are appreciated.

So how do I do this? How do I deliver my heartfelt thanks to those who have treated me to-the-sky-and-back caringly, to the ones who might not be around when I finally figure out what I want to say, and find the courage to share it?

This post was originally going to be a note of gratitude to my mother. But writing about gratefulness, I got distracted and flew off on a tangent. Because my mother lives far away, and cannot hear me over the phone, and is not responding to emails, I wanted to briefly thank her here, as she’s my greatest fan. She gave me life. She carried me around, seeing to my welfare until I could take care (more or less) of myself.  And my mother is the one who not only taught me to say ‘thank you,’ she taught me to write letters when words were hard to find, or impossible to utter.

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

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Dancing with Turkeys

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, dances with a turkey.I WILL make a turkey for my son for Thanksgiving. Even if I’m wailing during the whole process. Even though my son and and I will be feasting elsewhere for the holiday. I will roast a turkey. I want to have a huge platter of bird in the fridge. A plate full of turkey in our own home means we are okay, that our tiny family is surviving, that life goes on.

This will be my fifth Thanksgiving without my daughter. I’m learning how to handle it.
Remembering Marika in the kitchen tearing breadcrumbs for the stuffing and baking carrot cake, I’ve learned that one can simultaneously grieve and be grateful. Last year I called it Thanksgrieving. This year it is Dancing with Turkeys, as I dash all over town to dine in three different households before coming home to the turkey in my fridge.

Here are my holiday tips for grievers:

  1. Treat yourself like you’re the guest of honor. Our beloveds won’t be seated at the table but they are seated in our hearts. So carry on the way they would want and be good to your self.
  2. Allow yourself to cry. Let the pain gush out in tears. Pull out old photos, phone your sister in Florida to reminisce, chop onions, and cry like a lemon being juiced.
  3. Allow yourself to smile, maybe even laugh, at the memories of sweet times. Remembering and making memories are the real gifts of holidays.
  4. Focus on what you have, not on what you’ve lost. What are the lessons you learned from your loved one? What was gifted? What has changed your life?
  5. If you can’t find something to be thankful for, do something nice for another. The most joy can come from giving someone else something to be grateful about.

So go do this holiday, my friends. Whether you gather with others, or chow down your dinner standing alone over the kitchen sink, I am sending you my warmest wishes. We are going to be okay. We are surviving. Life goes on. You are not alone.

 

How do you grieve and be grateful at the same time?

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Healing from Loss: Catawampus

Catawampus Robin botie in Ithaca, New York, holds her her daughter, Marika Warden, her Aunt Bope as a girl, and her dog.

A friend lets go of her walker and slowly backs into the passenger seat of my car.
“I’m all catawampus,” she says, after she lands slumped at an awkward angle and I try to adjust the seatbelt around her.
“What a great word,” I say, thinking that’s exactly how I feel sometimes. Especially in the holiday season when everyone else is dashing out to go shopping while I sit home hugging my dog. My friends are making toasts over Thanksgiving and I can only think of my Uncle Martin who just died. I’m out of kilter. Catawampus.

“You got through all of your troubles,” says my Aunt Bope, days later, at the gathering after her husband’s funeral. At the cemetery, family and friends had taken turns shoveling soil into the grave. I’d watched her high heels sink into the soggy ground as my cousin helped her lift the shovel.

“You will too. You’re strong,” I say over a plate of fruit salad and rainbow cookies. She shakes her head, no. I look  into her eyes that are so like my own. “We both are,” I insist, pointing out that her mother, my Omi Rosie, was the strongest person we ever knew. But I wonder how she will get over this. She was happily married to Martin for 66 years, over 2/3 of her lifetime. The 20-year-old daughter I lost was with me barely 1/3 of my time. That’s been hard enough.

“You’re young,” she says. “It’s different.”
I look at my feet and don’t know what to say. I do feel young. Now. But I remember how unsteadily I walked on the frozen mud when my daughter died. The ground was uneven and ungiving. Back then I couldn’t find enough to hold onto and did not want to face another day.

To my Aunt Bope … to the friend of a friend who recently lost a daughter … to another dear one who wonders how her world disintegrated … to all of us who carry sadness during a season that is shocked by bright lights and raucous cheer, I just want to say:
Do not think your life is over or that you will never laugh again. The pain of loss will soften. Life will not always be catawampus.

I look down, speechless before my aunt. That’s when I notice —

“Stay strong. Take care of yourself. And eat,” I say, feeling less worried.

— My Aunt Bope is still wearing her heels.

 

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