I found out I was getting a divorce on Thanksgiving a few years ago.
We had just come back from a lovely family dinner at my sister-in-law’s home. The Queen of family gatherings, J. had orchestrated another in a series of wonderful events with great food for the 50+ dinner guests, who ranged in age from eight months to 80 years old.
Filled with the warm glow of a delicious meal shared with a friendly and delightful group of in-laws and their families, I was totally unprepared for what came next.
After telling me that I was the love of his life, my then-husband told me that he needed to be alone at this point in his life, so he was leaving. “The moving truck is arriving tomorrow, so you should mark anything you want to keep with your name on a piece of masking tape now,” he added.
So if anyone has a good reason to crawl into bed and not come out until Thanksgiving is over, it’s me.
Except that this isn’t what I choose to do. In life, it isn’t so much what happens to you as how you respond to what happens to you that determines your recovery from setbacks and tragedies, large and small.
We have only to look to Antoine Leiris, who lost his wife, Hélène Muyal-Leiris, in the horrific attacks on Paris on November 13 to see the truth of that. “I will not give you the gift of hating you,” he told the attackers, reading aloud in English on BBC News. “Responding to hatred with anger would be to give into the same ignorance that has made you what you are.”
“Of course I am devastated with grief,” the father of their 17-month-old son continued, “I will give you that tiny victory, but this will be a short-term grief. I know that she will join us every day and that we will find each other again in a paradise of free souls, which you will never have access to.”
I am not comparing my loss to Antoine’s — I think his statement is one of the bravest things I have ever heard, and losing a spouse to divorce is nothing like losing one to terrorism. However, anyone who has gone through a divorce knows that there is a grieving period: you’re grieving the death of your marriage, your hopes and dreams for what your future would look like. You can’t short-circuit the process; you have to feel your pain, and then you have to release it. In fact, you have to feel and then release your pain many times before your divorce is through with you.
This year, I don’t have a spouse and in-laws to celebrate holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas with me. However, what I do have is my “heart-family”: friends who have stood by and supported me through some of the worst times of my life.
Recently, my dog Gracie — who is my child in a fur coat — got really sick and almost died. She required two major surgeries, and spent 12 days in the ER. My heart-family were there with me the whole time — helping me not to lose hope, but ready to support me if I had to let her go. One of them helped me to bring her home, and “Team Gracie” took shifts coming over to lie on the floor with her to try to convince her to start eating again. I am grateful and thrilled to say that she has made a miraculous recovery — due in no small part to her love for these special humans.
So this Thanksgiving, I’m grateful that Gracie was able to celebrate another birthday in October — and I’m even more grateful for my heart-family. I chose to make a Thanksgiving dinner for Team Gracie, and I’m sure I’ll be celebrating Christmas with them as well — maybe not on December 25th, but the calendar date doesn’t matter so much to me. What does matter is being able to celebrate with people I love — which has nothing to do with whether they are related to me by blood or by marriage, and everything to do with the part they play in my life.
And for that, I am truly grateful.
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