Thanksgiving has come and gone and yet I’m still tired. It was a low-key day with only 6 of us this year. I still made the same amount of food. I’m not sure why. I still put in the same amount of work no matter what the number. And I still feel as if there should be 15 – 19 people at my house. Holiday’s were always up to my Dad or me to host. It was good. I never minded. I always wanted the holidays to be fun and feel like home for all of us, with all of it’s collective warmth, good cheer, and laughter. Lot’s of laughter, in fact. That was just a given. With Thanksgiving, came all the smells of turkey, stuffing and all things pumpkin permeating the house. With tables and counters adorned with clear glass vases of white roses with vivid yellow lemons laden on the bottom, all of these sensory images and aromas are what make these moments, and holidays viscerally impactful. That was always my hope, and always my goal anyway. Make home as sensory as you can. Impact everyone with these little touches and make it feel like home, everyday. These days though, I kind of amble through the motions, but I don’t find the same naked joy in them that I once did. I’m not proud of that, by the way, but it just seems to be the way it is in my little world of Sharon.
I still have the same desire to make these moments special for my kids. My kids, that are now, all adults, and now bringing their new wives, girlfriend and boyfriend home for the holidays. Our holidays are changing to be sure. Well, actually, they have changed, and for good, I’m afraid. I hold on to all that was sacred from our past; this past life that I still want to be my present and my future, but it is not. Not anymore. I yearn for Wes to be here with me as we welcome our new familial additions to our holiday traditions. But as I try to hold on to the old, I am forced to usher in the new. Alone. So I go through the motions creating this illusion, maybe just to myself, but maybe to the kids as well, that we are starting new traditions. That’s what I say anyway. It’s what I tell the kids as I say it with conviction. I try as hard as I can to keep a poker face and not show that I am kicking and screaming on the inside, but keeping a smile on my face of sheer determination, which amounts to nothing more than grit – true grit, that is. And on some levels, I’m ok with that, because I have to be – I have no choice. But at least I have strength on my side, and strength, although fleeting on days, amounts to something.
As my daughter Kara came in from NY with a friend late Wednesday night, we had our Thanksgiving morning planned out for us. We were running in the 5k Turkey Trot in our neighborhood. Just a mere 4000 runners and walkers crowding our neighborhood streets to frontload the calorie burn before food even enters the body. For our neighborhood, we donate all the proceeds of this annual run to Life with Cancer, an organization created to help families and patients navigate the cancer journey. I have been on the committee for our annual Life with Cancer fundraiser for 15 years. It is the greatest organization around and one that Wes and I both volunteered with and for, until we had to actually utilize all of its services. These days, it’s a bittersweet union, to be sure. But nonetheless, we would never have been able to walk the path of cancer without the steady hand, guidance and warm blanket that Life with Cancer provided for us during the roughest time of our lives. That’s just a fact.
As our neighborhood has known it’s share of despair from the ravages of cancer, each year our Turkey Trot honors someone who has suffered at the hands of this beast. In November of 2011, the committee asked if we wanted to have Wes’ name on the race t-shirt. This was not an easy decision, at least not for me. I discussed it separately with all the kids and when they thought they were ok with it, I told them that they really needed to consider if they could handle being in the checkout line at the grocery store, behind someone wearing the t-shirt that says “In Memory of Wes Neff.” Can you handle that, I ask? I tell them again to really think about it. They all came back to me and said that they could. And so we did. And so we have.
That year, 9 months after Wes died, all of our family, friends, Wes’ Goon crew and neighbors came out on a very cold, early Thanksgiving morning to pay tribute to the guy that was the glue for all of us no matter where he was, and no matter where you knew him from. We met at our house and then went to the race a few blocks down the street while some ran and some walked, as we all donned our running shoes to participate. Afterwards we came back to the house for a big breakfast party for all of us suffering from the loss of our bestie. It wasn’t easy as this was the first holiday without Wes, but friends and family came out to take care of us, as well as each other. It was a great way, albeit difficult, to usher in this new day, new holiday and new experience without Wes, and as I trudged through it, in my grief-laden fog, I did it with the best friends and family that Wes and the kids and I have ever had the pleasure of having and knowing. As this experience became another lesson for all of us, in what it means to be a friend.
My older sister lost her husband 6 months before Wes died. I remember her asking me a few years ago if I was finding that I enjoyed my independence – she, it turns out, is loving every minute of it. I just looked at her in the way a dog looks at you in total confusion as their eyebrows go up and down and their heads move from side to side as they try to size up the moment. My eyebrows were doing that, and my head was doing that also. So now it’s confirmed: I’m living a dog’s life. And I wonder why I’m down.
It was a curious question then, just 2 years after Wes died and it would still be a curious question to me today. The answer is no, by the way. No – I do not like my independence. I was independent right along side Wes. I didn’t need him to be gone to feel that. I was gloriously, independently dependent. I was whole. But that was then. Now, I’m just a shell of my former self, or so it seems on my worst days. But for Kerry, she has met a man that she is crazy about and she has told me that she has come to realize that this is the happiest she’s been in decades. It hurts my heart just to consider the impact of that statement. For her though – living a life of discontent was tough, although she was never bitter. I give her so much credit for that. That is not an easy enterprise. But her experience is counter to my experience to be sure. And as Kerry texted me last night telling me how great Thanksgiving was this year for her, as she melded her family and her new boyfriend’s families together, she asked me if I found that it was getting easier for me. I texted: “I’m not sure if it’s easier Kerry. I’ve learned to manage things differently, but there are days that I can barely stand to be without him, which seems to be coming down hard on my lately.” She texted back: “A big hug to say: I understand.”
As I am wrestling with the downside of grief again, I am trying to navigate this resurgence that is bringing with it a level of anxiety that I haven’t experienced since the year after Wes died. I’m not sure what this is all about, but I am trying to dissect it in part and parcel and get to the root of its re-emergence. I actually do know what the root cause is, but there’s only one way to fix it, and that isn’t going to happen. I’m pretty sure of it. But I miss Wes on a level that is so profound and so raw again that it is also disillusioning me right now. Grief is like waves that ebb and flow, not peaceful, mind you, but forceful and unrelenting. That seems to be where I am again. Just stuck. Stuck in the waves.
But even so, I keep walking through my days in hopes of a reprieve, a reprieve, that never seems to come. At least not right now. Is it the holidays again? Is it the holidays without Wes? Maybe and probably. But I have to say – I wasn’t expecting this – not even a little bit. Not to this degree anyway. But here it is, bearing down on me, as I am left trying to navigate the pain that feels like it is threatening to suffocate me once again. I feel weak and feckless in this new surge of grief, as it lets me know, that it’s here to stay for a bit. And in spite of it, I am constantly trying to find renewed hope, not just for the holidays, but for every day. And as I navigate this new surge of grief, I always hold out hope for a better tomorrow, one with strength, peace and a belief in the future. And while I consider my reality and the cause and affects of these emotions, I have come to realize that I am just plum worn out. Grief takes a lot out of you, while sustained grief takes even more. Of course it does. But I’ve just run out of gas. I don’t have any more energy or stamina to withstand this level of sorrow. I’m pretty sure I don’t. I’m certain of it, in fact. The reality is that we continue to grieve for the rest of our lives, that’s just a fact too, and maybe that’s as it should be. But when you’re out of gas, you’re just simply out of gas.
I wish I could put this pain behind me and move on with a new sense of verve and purpose. I just doesn’t come. Not in the way that I want it to, or in the way that I need it to; and certainly not in the way that I used to have it. I have always been a “glass half full” kind of gal, but these days, I see the glass as half empty. But on my stronger days, I try to envision that tall glass as having sunlight reflecting off the water contained inside. But yet lately, I get tripped up again and again. These days, and for right now my glass with all its reflective sunlight, seems to get dimmer and dimmer. In the proverbial glass that is the quantifiable gauge and quotient for hope – I feel empty. But in many ways I have figured out new things to do and new ways of doing old things, but so often they are devoid of joy. Well, devoid of the type of joy that I used to know anyway. That verve that I used to have – I knew how to do. That joy that I used to possess – I knew how to rock it. But this, this new life – today, right now……………….is scaring the hell out of me.