From Grief to Gratitude.
I used to love Thanksgiving—with its chunky sweaters, mashed potatoes and Ralph Lauren ad feel. It was like Christmas, but without all the pressure or pretense. And my mom’s family did it especially well.
All 20 plus of us gathered on my grandparents’ lawn. We played, and ate and laughed. We were happy and grateful—exactly like we were meant to be.
Then, in November 2005, my mom died. And suddenly hanging out with her family, playing croquet and eating turkey took on a whole new meaning.
Her absence was palpable. There was no Pumpkin Roll. The napkins weren’t right. The table talk was dull and half-hearted. There was no one to organize us, to make us laugh. And when we arranged ourselves to take the annual Christmas card, I was lost without her to lean against.
For those first years, all I could think as we sat around the table was, “Thanks a lot, mom. Thanks for dying and leaving me alone with these people. These people who want to change our traditions. Who don’t make Pumpkin Roll or laugh like you do.”
Because when you’re swimming in grief, it’s hard to see all you do have. You focus on what’s missing. You see the empty place setting, the different dessert and the new time and place.
You whine and cry and feel miserable for yourself. Because, it sucks she isn’t there—that life continues to move so swiftly on. But it does, and clinging to how her Pumpkin Roll used to be doesn’t bring her back.
So, you pull down the recipe, roll up your sleeves and stir 3/4 cup flour with 2/3 cup pumpkin. You turn it out on a towel, and while it’s cooling you realize all you do have.
Then, when it comes time to stand around the circle holding hands, you say a real thank you. A thank you to your mom for leaving you alone with these people.
Because no matter how different traditions become. No matter how crazy, or weird or awkward holidays feel. You see she never really left you alone. She was there the whole time—in her sister’s smile, her brother’s hair and your Pumpkin Roll.
My mom’s Pumpkin Roll recipe, adapted from Libby’s Pumpkin Roll:
Sara McKeown is just like every other yogi, except she hates coconut water. When she’s not perfecting her Downward Facing Dog or teaching other people how to perfect theirs, she can be found eating avocados, doodling in her journal, talking with her hands, microwaving her non-dairy ice cream, daydreaming about having Ira Glass’s babies, debating which book to stick her nose in or helping people live their best lives through her work as a counselor and wellness coach. Send her love notes at [email protected] or come along with her on her journey by checking out her blog, My Great Leap.
Editor: Lynn H.