Prior to my family estrangement, Thanksgiving was my favorite holiday. It was gratifying to sit at a beautiful dinner table, candles lit, delicious food passed among family and friends. Following the meal, we took turns expressing what we were grateful for. Inevitably, each person said that above all, they were grateful for their family.
Thanksgiving is quite different these days for estranged parents, who feel a deep sense of loss, abandonment, loneliness, and betrayal. Even if there are other children and other family members with whom we share a normal, happy relationship, the estrangement from a child is such a painful soul wound that it can overshadow the enjoyment of the family we do have.
Family. What is it about family that is so overwhelmingly pervasive as a necessary ingredient for a happy, successful life? The problem with this mindset is that we can’t control who our family is, how they behave or how they relate to us. Maybe we have a great relationship with a sibling but not so great with a parent. Or an adult child has addiction issues, a disorder, or has a partner who is difficult. We simply cannot control anyone, family or not.
So, according to the paradigm of spending holidays with family, we must actually have a family. Many people are bereft of family, or they have a family with issues like estrangement. So what can we do?
This year, I will continue to acknowledge all that I’m grateful for. It will look quite different from past lists, because it won’t focus on family. I simply can’t do that because my family has hurt me too much and for too long. So, here’s my list, revised to fit my current circumstances:
I am grateful for music, dance, books, art. I am grateful for the autumn leaves raining down from the trees, drifting sideways, dancing across my window. I am grateful that I’m still standing, stronger than ever. I am grateful that I’ve learned to let go. I’m grateful that my broken heart is still beating, and healing more each day. I’m grateful that I still giggle, that I still cry when I witness new life, that I still wait in my car to hear the end of a song I like. I’m grateful that I’ve grown kinder and more patient. I’m grateful for the lesson of detachment, because grasping only makes things worse. I’m grateful for peace and for the quiet that fills me up. I’m grateful for the deep understanding that people come and go, that there is no permanence, that I can’t let my happiness be dependent upon what someone does or doesn’t do. I’m grateful for my life, for love, for that quiet voice within me that says, “I won’t give up. I’m willing to see and to do things differently. Everyday, I choose to rise up and begin again.”
This year, Thanksgiving will be an inside job. And I’m grateful for that.