Still, I cannot escape the presence of his absence.
As Thanksgiving approaches for the third time since my precious 26-year-old son Elliot left this earth but not my heart, the pain is just as debilitating. Yet it has changed. Now, it’s more of a dull, unrelenting throb or ache—strangely different from the blinding sharpness that took my breath away in those earliest days. This also will be the Thanksgiving that marks the passing of an entire generation in my family with the death of my 96-year-old aunt Virginia in April. And I mourn the passing of Patches, my spirit cat of 15 years, as well.
I am reminded of the revelatory words of a new therapist I have been seeing. She is almost supernatural in her ability to discern the enormity and uniquity of my grief, all its cracks and crevasses. That is its own balm in Gilead. Though she wears one of those plexiglass face shields that makes her look like a part-time astronaut and sits six feet away from me and my crimson damask mask, there is something profoundly healing about the unseen energetic connection between two people that transcends the Brady Bunch squares of a Zoom session. I’ll call her Jackie, and I am exceedingly grateful I found her.
She sees me, the me I am right now in this moment—in all my complicated dysfunction, still struggling to figure out who I am from one moment to the next. And Jackie can definitely identify with the morphing messiness of grief, as she lost her beloved husband about two years ago.
“I think you may have discovered a thin ribbon of space in carrying this heaviness,“ she observes. ”Think of it like the thin layer of air just above the floor’s surface in fire. If you can just find that sliver of oxygen in the room, you can breathe, even if for only a moment.”
I let the profound truth of this statement sink into every pore, cell and membrane. It feels poignantly true, but also elusive and temporal, kind of like my brilliant Elliot was in life. The idea is that this space . . . where the grace happens will eventually expand.
Hmmm, a glimmer of hope, I whisper to myself.
Since that horrible day in August 2018, my life has changed irreparably. But it’s more than that. I have changed—my core being has changed. That might be the most surprising thing about grief. I am not the same person. My soul is different, marred by an opaque, murky stain that no tonic will ever remove. Even my emotional anxieties, which were front and center but healing before he died, have changed. They are much more demanding.
My relationship with everything and everyone has shifted, off kilter and flailing. I’m a Calder mobile that has lost one of its perfectly calibrated arms. I am upside down and inside out. At least, I can say his name without tearing up now. The mornings are the worst, though. I wake up every morning thinking I am stuck in some sort of lingering nightmare.
I also find my patience for trivialities and random histrionics is non-existent. Life is simply too short to put up with such foolishness, but at the same time, everything triggers my fear. I am anxious about walking out the front door or speaking to a neighbor who is not wearing a mask. The world has become mostly an antagonistic place—in here and out there, exacerbated by the social, political and health realities that weigh on all of us. That said, I would gladly endure 100 2020s to reverse 2018.
My ardent quest now, my only option as I see it, is to find some sort of meaning—not in Elliot’s death but in my life. As I have painfully discovered in the last few months, the more I search for answers to the whys of Elliot’s accident, the more dead ends I encounter. No satisfaction. No relief. Just more angst, more questions and more agony.
So, purpose is my focus, and I feel called in my heart to pursue this through sharing my story, through exposing my beaten heart, raw and damaged as it is, as I strive to pick up the jagged pieces I can bear to touch to help me go on—to honor Elliot’s memory and empower his precious brother, Ian.
Until then, I will walk this dark path looking for the glimmers of light and grace—such as a lone egret landing on a fragile tree branch protruding through the creek’s serene loden-green surface like a needle puncturing smooth Asian silk. I will look for the reminders that we are part of a greater whole and the grand mosaic of creation.
There, will be a glimpse of gratitude.
8 thoughts on “Thanksgiving Looms”
Elaine, this is beautiful. I genuinely would like to get together with you – perhaps at an outdoor restaurant that is quite safe with tables space 12′ apart outside. Please take care of yourself. You are in my prayers. Tammy McGowen 214/316-3343
Would be great to catch up. Thank you for connecting.
Elaine, grief counseling is certainly not my area of expertise. But I would suggest continuing to walk in the sunshine as much as possible. Thanksgiving 2020 will probably be gloomy for most everyone. But considering recent developments, hopefully Thanksgiving 2021 will be far more joyous. My suggestion would be to surround yourself with family and friends to boost your spirits.
Jeff, sunshine and nature are powerful remedies. You are wise. Walking also helps. Thank you for commenting. Good to hear from you.
Your words speak to me. And i am certain that i am not alone in this feeling – this feeling that you are articulating. I am not a mother and therefore can not know what you know. But i am a person who has experienced profound grief and that is where we are meeting. Like you, i am not finding purpose in the pain nor exactly in trying to recover another’s life.
Tell your story. Tell all your stories. There is a glimmer and i cant wait to see how you tell the story so that others may breathe the breath of gratitude too.
😷 Mary Clutts 😷
Your words move me deeply. Thank you for walking with me, Mary. It helps me carry the weight.
Elaine , I’ve known Doug since high school and followed his posts when your son was alive and then lost. I’m
So sorry . I lost my 18 year old son 5 years ago and do reading another mother’s post is heartbreaking. I read 100 books on grief when he passed to find a glimmer of help . The only one that resonated was ” it’s okay I’m not okay “. I’ve learned to accept my brokenness & make no excuses or apologies . Much love to you . Robbin Robertson Polter
Robbin, thank you for your note. My heart breaks for you. We are members of the club no one wants to join, but thank God we find each other. I love Megan Devine’s book. It’s my favorite so far, too. I also took her online writing class. Intense but transformative. I am devouring books — as I am able. Concentration is challenging sometimes, and that’s OK, as Megan says. Good to hear you are discovering ways to carry to your grief. Sending love and glimmers of grace. — egw