It’s impossible for me to describe the first Thanksgiving without Ana, because it didn’t feel like she wasn’t here. It felt like Ana was everywhere — in the deviled eggs her aunt Amy made, in Emily’s Christmas-themed bedroom, in the candles and string lights that illuminated our living room and dining room, in Jim’s delicious dinner served promptly at 4:30 p.m…
There were a few different directions we could’ve taken the holiday, all of which I considered and almost instantly dismissed (go to a restaurant, escape to a new location, keep it just the three of us this year…) But every time I considered these options, I thought about Ana. I imagined her reaction to any one of these scenarios and it was instantly clear to me that we needed to keep celebrating as we always had (with some minor tweaks, of course).
Ana loved Thanksgiving. By November of last year, though she was already struggling with lack of hunger, increased pain, and profound fatigue, she spent the day feeling happy and content. I had the presence of mind to snap a picture of her, Emily, and the cousins which captures her smile that radiates pure contentment.
I didn’t take any photos yesterday. I spent the day moment by moment, feeling fully present. Emily was the only kid (we’re getting together with family again tomorrow and Emily will see her cousins then.) So instead of worrying about photos or stressing over every spec of dust, I cleaned as much as I could stand and set the table while Jim cooked. Emily militantly dictated the holiday decorations and by noon the house smelled delicious and looked properly festive.
It’s not that I didn’t have doubts. I was apprehensive about carrying on without Ana because I didn’t like the thought of celebrating a holiday (much less enjoying one) without her. She’s been so integral to every holiday for the last sixteen years. I worried that to go on in such a…normal…way would be some kind of precursor to forgetting her, to the dreaded idea of “”moving on.”” But, honestly, there’s no way in hell that I’ll forget my child, no moving on without her. Ana comes with me wherever I go, no matter what.
So, whenever I felt apprehension or doubt about Thanksgiving, particularly in the days leading up to the holiday, I’d think of Ana and her content smile and my conviction that her spirit has expanded, that she radiates the joy she expressed on that day all the time. It just seemed so simple, we would have Thanksgiving at home, of course. But I still had doubts. Would it be awful? Was this a mistake?
Then, at 3 a.m. on Thanksgiving Eve, we woke up to a huge crash as water poured out of the ceiling in the kitchen (taking down a ceiling tile with it). I actually slept through the initial racket and Jim woke me up by saying, “”We have a BIG problem.”” Jim shut the water off, convinced a pipe had burst or was broken, and said there was no way we could have Thanksgiving at home.
Emily was awake at this point and when I told her, she was devastated–she refused to go anywhere else for Thanksgiving. It turned out the problem was much simpler than a burst pipe. The hose that feeds water to the ice maker in the fridge had sprung a leak. Water had gathered in the ceiling and one ceiling tile had collapsed. Jim turned the water back on, clamped the hose, and Thanksgiving was back on (albeit with a gaping hole in our kitchen ceiling). Emily was so happy about this that all my doubt vanished. The timing was just so perfect, I can’t help thinking that maybe Ana was trying to send a message to me. “”Relax, mom. It’s going to be okay.””
And it was okay. It was more than okay. I started out the day by writing a note to Ana in a journal I’ve been keeping (filled with notes to her). I wrote about our plans for the day and told her how much I’d miss her. I asked for signs, as I often do, and then I lit all the candles we’d set up in the dining room and living room and clarified my intention to enjoy the day and try to notice signs. I’d purchased an angel statue in honor of Ana which I put on the mantel with other decorations. While we were eating dinner, I pointed it out to everyone. It felt good to mention Ana’s name. There was no empty place setting to highlight her absence, no shrine of photos with candles around it, not even a toast to her memory. There was just an overall inclusion of Ana’s memory, and her spirit, present throughout the day. She was with us. I know she was.
And so, hopefully, I will be able to carry this feeling with me through the next four weeks and into Christmas. I’m still taking things one (holi)day at a time.