Late the night before Thanksgiving I got a call from my mom, who explained that she slipped and fell down a couple steps in her house and hurt her knee. She had waited well over an hour to call anyone, thinking it would improve on its own. It didn't. When we got there her pain was obviously debilitating and it was clear we were headed to the ER. To make a long story short(ish), she was referred to an orthopedist and told not to move her knee, at all, until then. By the time we came back to her house on Thanksgiving morning it was pretty clear that things were getting worse and not better. We all agreed, my mom included, that Thanksgiving was going to have to be postponed this year. We rented her a wheelchair on Thanksgiving Day, got her as situated as she could be, and made a plan to get in with an orthopedist first thing the next morning.
When my husband and I left her house that afternoon neither of us were exactly sure what to do with ourselves. It was Thanksgiving Day, after all, though it wasn’t feeling much like Thanksgiving. So, in true American fashion, we made a stop at Starbucks to regroup. I was concerned Starbucks might not even be open, but when we arrived the line was so long it almost went out the door. We got our fancy, overpriced Starbucks drinks and both agreed it made no sense to try to put together a Thanksgiving dinner now. I was feeling sleep-deprived, emotional, and a little overwhelmed when it occurred to me that were in a shopping center of my favorite Asian grocery store. The plan immediately became clear. We would get carryout sushi and go home to binge watch True Detective. Obviously.
The holidays are a tough for me, Thanksgiving especially so. They remind me of my dad and more others in my familly who are no longer with us than I care to count right now. And that is in years that don’t involving my mom falling and ending up in the ER. So, on the one hand, this Thanksgiving was a total disaster. One that had me teetering on the edge of an emotional meltdown. On the other hand, I really love sushi and True Detective. When I texted Eleanor that evening about my day she replied telling me I had mastered “the art of regrouping”. However absurd the new plan was, it allowed me to somehow salvage a little piece of my Thanksgiving. Rather than crawling into bed a sulking, I at least did something. Anything.
Here is the thing about holidays: we have this image in our minds of exactly what they are supposed to look like. That image is usually a big part memories from holidays past, mixed in with things we’ve seen on TV and in the movies, with a healthy splash of nostalgia thrown in. This archetype for a holiday becomes deeply engrained. Anything outside of it seems . . . wrong. When the holiday turkey is ruined, it feels like nothing can replace it. When no one has the energy to decorate the Christmas tree it seems it can’t truly be Christmas. When someone is missing at the holiday table, it seems the whole holiday is a wash.
One of our readers recently left a comment on the blog explaining that this year, after moving back to her hometown, she had been feeling optimistic that the holidays would finally feel good again. Unfortunately, she shared, life has gotten in the way of that. The holidays are not shaping up to be what she had hoped.. Luckily she shared the new theme she adopted after accepting the fate of this holiday: “It isn’t a Hallmark movie, Charlie Brown”.
Amen, sister. Amen.
Sometimes our holidays don’t look the way we hoped they would. They look nothing like a Hallmark movie. Someone dies and you skip the holiday that year. Someone falls and breaks her knee 12 hours before the holiday meal and you postpone the holiday til further notice. You’re far from home, far from family, you aren’t in the house you love or with the people you love. Whatever it is, our holidays get derailed for a million reasons.
This is when the art of regrouping emerges. It is a moment not to say I am going to make this a great holiday! It is a moment instead to say, I am going to pick myself up, brush myself off, and try to salvage something out of this day, however small. This something may have nothing at all to do with the holiday at all. In fact, chances are it won't. This isn’t about optimism or looking on the bright side. It is about a bare minimum of saying I can regroup, I will regroup, and I will reclaim something out of this day.
My Thanksgiving started off rough and it never managed to resemble a Thanksgiving. But hey, I made it through and even had some yummy sushi, some good HBO programming, and some alone time with the S.O. to boot. On the spectrum of Thanksgivings, it was pretty terrible. But once I put those holiday expectations aside, on the spectrum of days it was far from the worst.
I read an article today in the Naples, FL local paper about the pain of the holidays after a loss. A widow talked about her Thanksgiving this year saying, “On Thanksgiving Day I was all alone and I was feeling really depressed. I called a friend and asked her to come by. We just sat and talked for hours. It was so soothing and salvaged the day”. YES. Yes yes yes. The art of regrouping, in action.
It isn’t about a perfect holiday, sometimes it isn’t about anything that even resembles a holiday. It is about putting one foot in front of the other, taking a deep breath, and getting through. It is about doing what you need in the moment, and that may have nothing to do with Christmas trees, snowmen, holiday carols and mistletoe. It is about doing whatever it is that works for you, unapologetically. That can take a million forms and none is more right or wrong that the other. And thank our reader, Keli, if you need to repeat her matra to yourself: it's not a Hallmark movie, Charlie Brown!
I wish you no need for holiday regrouping, but if you do please leave us a comment! It helps when we remember we are not alone. And don’t forget to subscribe to get all our posts right to your inbox.
We wrote a book!
After writing online articles for What’s Your Grief
for over a decade, we finally wrote a tangible,
What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss is for people experiencing any type of loss. This book discusses some of the most common grief experiences and breaks down psychological concepts to help you understand your thoughts and emotions. It also shares useful coping tools, and helps the reader reflect on their unique relationship with grief and loss.
You can find What’s Your Grief? Lists to Help you Through Any Loss wherever you buy books: