Thanksgiving. Panic. Run. Most people would not put those words together, but since my divorce, no other holiday has felt so painful. Just the thought of Thanksgiving would start the tears and plans to run away.
The first year, I fell apart at work the Monday of Thanksgiving week. I couldn’t stop crying. I had a hard time breathing or thinking. I was shaking. My boss said I could take a break to pull myself together. Caught completely off guard, I had to figure out what the panic was about.
Thanksgiving was the only holiday we celebrated growing up. We made pine cone turkeys, pilgrim and Indian outfits, cornucopias, and our best food. We were grateful on paper, out loud, and in prayer. We celebrated family and faith. Even after I started celebrating other holidays as an adult, Thanksgiving was always my comfort holiday.
Until my world fell apart. My divorce tore up my family. Growing up, no matter what poverty or sickness hit, we always stayed together to fight it out. As a family, we could conquer anything. But now, my own family was broken. Despite the heritage of successful marriages (my parents and four of their siblings have celebrated 50th anniversaries, and my five siblings are still married to their original spouses), I couldn’t keep mine together. I was a failure.
In my brokenness, Thanksgiving symbolized everything I had lost. Hopes. Dreams. Belonging. Loyalty. Love. Family. How could I ever be thankful when it hurt so much?
I figured out why I was panicking, got control of myself and went back to work. My ex-husband had our three boys for Thanksgiving, so I planned my getaway….Daytona Beach. Alone. Nothing to remind me of Thanksgiving.
Coming from a large family, I’d never learned to be alone. For the first time in my life, I did fun things alone. I watched the new James Bond movie at the theater. I walked on the beach with my Starbucks. I relaxed in the hot tub. I cried and prayed. God helped me start focusing on what I had, instead of on what I’d lost.
The next year, even though I started panicking, I didn’t run away. I just boycotted my family’s Thanksgiving dinner. Without my boys again, I watched movies and went to Waffle House with a friend. The pain was almost manageable.
I knew my family was hurt that I wouldn’t let them love me through the holiday. They wanted to help me. They couldn’t fathom that their togetherness made my brokenness hurt worse.
The third year, I cried and felt tightness in my chest, but I didn’t panic. I kept my boys and had Thanksgiving with my extended family. I had finally come to terms with my revised family unit. My boys and I were a whole family, not a partial one. We were developing and owning our new identity. Our value was based on God’s unconditional love for us.
No panicking or crying this year. We’re creating new traditions as a family of four. We’re not boycotting the extended family, but we’ve put our needs first. Instead of traveling, we’re catching up on life and resting. We’re attending a Thanksgiving dinner with others from our church.
Today is Thanksgiving Day, and I am thankful. God has brought healing and hope into my life. My sons are my world. We are blessed beyond measure! May you find hope and healing in a relationship with the Creator of the Universe, too.