Before and after. Then and now. A future full of dreams and then an uncertain path with a shattered heart. Love. Grief. Thanksgiving.
This is my 5th Thanksgiving without my son. Just that number stops me in my tracks. How in the world have we survived 5 years? It seems like yesterday that he was stillborn, and at the same time, it seems like an eternity since I held him in my arms. The whole journey is surreal, and yet so painstakingly real. We have weaved and stumbled and found our way through the days and nights, months and years. And somehow, we’ve made our way into another holiday season.
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The honest truth is that Thanksgiving has been hard over the past few years. When your heart is broken open with a gaping hole from the death of your child it seems as if there is not a lot to be thankful for. Do not get me wrong; there is, and there always has been. But, the missing chair at the table, the plate that does not get fixed, the coaxing to eat the turkey and vegetables that goes unspoken, the cute outfit left unpurchased at the store, the missing person from the family photos, it is all just a reminder of what is not there…of who is not there. And with every fiber of my being those feelings have been so strong and overwhelming, until now.
This year is different. I cannot fully explain why. Everything mentioned above is the same but the legacy of my son and my love for him continues to spread and grow. This year I am truly thankful again. Finally.
Every day for the past year I have had the privilege of meeting some of the finest parents on the planet. I am so sad for the reason that we have met because it would have been a whole lot more fun to have met on the soccer field, on a play date or at a PTA meeting. But, nevertheless, we met because our children have brought us together. Without our children, we would not have this bond that is like no other. Without our children, we would have never known that love can run so deep and how grief can be so painful. We have cried together, laughed together, shared our fears, been able to be real with no pretense, said, “Me too,” and, “I get it,” and found that we are stronger together.
It is possible that somehow and someway our paths would have crossed another way. It is also possible that I would never have met most them at all. When a child dies you want to believe that their lives had purpose, and that they mattered no matter how short of a time we shared with them or how long we were able to live side by side. The truth is that they did matter. Your child matters. Not just to you, but to me and to the world.
This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for all those who have trusted me with their child’s story. Thankful for those who have been real amid the pain and have let the mask that the world wants us to wear to be laid aside. Thankful for those who have shared wise words and those who have said nothing but sat together and simply remembered. Thankful for the tears that have fallen which is a sign of the depth of the love shared between parent and child. Thankful for the dreams that are slowly but surely being dreamed again.
This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for you. Some of you I know and love. Some of you are strangers. But I am still thankful because today the sun rose, and you did too. For some it was incredibly hard, and yet you still managed it. Whoever you are and wherever you are, I am thankful for you because if you are reading this, you get it. You know pain and grief and suffering. But you also know a love that never ends because of your child. You know that days like this are hard. But, together we will make our way through them.
This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for your child. Your child who has changed you…who has offered you a new perspective on the world. Who has made you love in ways you never thought was possible. Who, just the thought of them makes your heart sing, even if it is a bittersweet melody. Know that I am thinking of you today. Whether you are a few doors down or half a world away. You are not alone. Our children have given us to each other.
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This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for my son. My Max. All he ever knew was love and that love has propelled me onto a journey that I could never have imagined. How I long to have him in my arms. But how thankful I am to be his Mommy.
This Thanksgiving, I am thankful. Finally. I hope you are too, and if you cannot be today, let your child’s love carry you, until that day comes for you.
DeAndrea is a wife, mother of three beautiful children, and the Founder and Executive Director of A Memory Grows, a 501(c)(3) based in Fort Worth, Texas that provides retreats and events for parents who are grieving the death of their child.