Thanksgiving, and tragedy. How to put these two things together? Well, I’m going to try…
We all know when Thanksgiving will be. But – the tragedy? Well, for me, it took place on Saturday, October 27, when 11 worshipers were shot dead at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
I’m Jewish, and a native Pittsburgher. And since Pittsburgh isn’t a really big city, and since its Jewish community really isn’t that big, either, just about everyone like me, whether in town or not, had some real connection. Mine was the death there of a sister of an aunt-by-marriage. For a friend: he had been married in that place, his father had been its president, and a small chapel within its walls is named for his family. But for everyone, the horror was unspeakable…
…almost. Because it’s the Jewish tradition to speak. People don’t mourn alone; there are always others to hear them when they want to speak, to speak with them, to give more than a hug and a kiss of silent comfort. The tradition specifies a seven-day period after a burial in which people visit mourners and speak to them, sharing memories and stories about the ones who are gone — not talking about their deaths, but about their lives. Life is always what matters most. Life is what to give thanks for, on Thanksgiving, and always – thanks for the life of the living, and also the lives of the dead, whose good deeds will live on after them.
If Mama is gone, daughter will cook the Thanksgiving turkey, and when the family eats, her version will be compared to that earlier one. But better or worse doesn’t matter. What does is the talking, the sharing, the remembering. If Papa is the one who has passed away, someone else will carve the big bird. Better or worse? It doesn’t matter. What does is the talking, the sharing, the remembering. There will be some tears, but that’s OK. And there will be laughter, which is even more OK, because lots of laughter will dry lots of tears.
Every family has Thanksgiving traditions, and it’s tough to see them die away, which they always do when one of the tradition-makers or tradition-keepers has died. But others will pick up those traditions, then change them a bit to create new but related traditions that will in a later time be passed on, again to be recreated in new forms by newer generations to come. Mama isn’t there anymore, but her turkey roasting pan is – until someone finds a newer one. Papa’s carving knife will eventually be set aside – probably in favor of the electric one he always refused to use. Changes are inevitable and not to be avoided; they are to be embraced. Because, with the memories they evoke, they keep the holiday alive.
Maybe, on that first Thanksgiving after the loss of a loved one, those who loved will not want to mark the holiday in the same way. So why not go out for dinner? Let someone else cook and carve the turkey, and let the remaining family celebrate itself by sitting around a table for a meal that caused no one any work, with ample time to relax, remember, share stories, laugh together – and cry together, too. The first time for everything post-death is always the hardest, but it will also produce lasting, good memories.
May all of us have a Happy Thanksgiving, sharing the joys of life even when we have experienced the loss of a life. Life moves on. Let us help it move on…
Perspective helps grief. A reasoned argument to move on, as we must. Thank you for this bit of comfort.
Always insightful and relevant… thank-you, Harriet!
Wonderful article, and words worth remembering.