Zen & Grief Goulash with a side of Onion Rings

It’s four days before Thanksgiving. I sit in my car in the parking lot of the Boatyard Shopping Center, chowing down onion rings and contemplating going home to dig into the snickerdoodle dairy-free ice cream I purchased earlier. I think about what I told my therapist a mere two days ago.

I said I’d been feeling pleasantly “normal” for the past couple of weeks. When she brought up my decision to be by myself on Thanksgiving, I said I was at peace with it. I anticipated that it was going to be okay. It might be bad, but that doesn’t matter. I have experienced so many awful, debilitating days since my husband Gary died—particularly in the first five or so months—that at eight months in I’m not afraid of having more.

How very enlightened. Yay for me!

Then earlier this morning I went to Harvest Market.

I ran into a long-time acquaintance. I hadn’t seen her in a few years. She’s a good, kind person and I like her a lot. We hugged and she asked if my kids were coming home for Thanksgiving.

“No,” I said. I don’t believe I said it with gloom in my voice—just stated it as a simple fact.

Her expression turned from sadness to anguish when she asked if I had plans to have dinner with other people and I said, “No, I’m okay.” Tears formed in her eyes.

Aw…crap, I made her cry. I swatted my hand in her direction and said, “It’s okay. It’s my choice. It’s what I want to do this year.” I could feel my defenses start to bristle. Was I supposed to make her feel better by explaining my daughter and her husband were on their honeymoon; that my son and his family were spending the holidays with his in-laws?

“Do you want to come to our house for dinner?”

 I held my palm up, waving it from side to side as if to erase her. “Thank you so much, but no. I promise, I’m okay. I’m fine.”

I wanted to say, “You don’t need to pity me. I’m going to have coffee and pie with friends the morning of Thanksgiving. On the day before, I’m having brunch with a friend. On the Saturday after, I’m having a group over for a Friendsgiving. Oh, and I’m going on a walk later today with a friend and with another on Tuesday. Look at me—wow! So popular!” Instead, I said it was good to see her, paid the checker and hustled out of the store.

As I drove home, I started to cry. Even though I had made the decision to be mostly by myself on Thanksgiving, I felt pathetic. I’d had plenty of dinner invitations, but I didn’t want to accept any of them. When I made this choice, I envisioned curling up on the sofa in my pajamas and staying there all day. As the holiday grows closer, that sounds dreadful. But the fact is I don’t want to do anything—and I also don’t want to do nothing. I feel like a toddler having to choose between two options—she doesn’t want either and starts to wail and thrash about.

Goddamnit!

I miss Gary and his crazy passion for the holiday season, beginning with Halloween and rolling into the New Year. He especially loved Thanksgiving. He was raised “old school,” and a stickler for the traditional meal—turkey, gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, yams, canned cranberry sauce—but was gracious when he passed on what he considered an “exotic” dish like cheesy potatoes or homemade cranberry-orange sauce. None of that fancy stuff for him! He delighted in the leftover turkey sandwiches he made for days afterward.

Over the past two weeks, I avoided the emotional logistics of being alone in my house for the first time in my life on this holiday—no kids, no grandkids, no dear friends. My action plan? I’d decorate for Christmas! I love Christmas and by then I’ll be surrounded by family. I can warm the hearts of random inquisitors by stating that yes, my children will be coming home. I’ll focus on that. Oh yes, I will. I’ll ignore Thanksgiving all together. Look at me, so sassy and clever. Yay for me! I successfully eluded grief by zigging here, zagging there, confusing it so it couldn’t find me and take me down.

Despite my mad dashing, grief kept creeping up behind, lightly tapping me on the shoulder, annoyingly trying to get my attention. “Go away,” I’d whisper. “Don’t ruin everything by making me cry and draining my energy.”

I returned home from the store, brought the grocery bags inside, sat down on a kitchen chair, and bawled for a solid 15 minutes. Gary loved Christmas. He was no longer here to enjoy it. He’d never again be here to enjoy it.

I would have continued crying, but there was the snickerdoodle ice cream threatening to melt. I hadn’t bought a frozen treat in a long time and I’d be damned if I was going to let grief destroy it.

I needed onion rings!

I put the groceries away and called David’s Deli to place the order. You cannot cry with your mouth full of onion rings. Don’t believe me? Try it. I dare you.

I picked up the food and sat in my car in the parking lot next to the Tesla charging stations. (You can’t take onion rings home and have the same flavor experience of eating them fresh out of the deep fryer. If you do, they cool just enough to make you realize how soaked in grease and terrible they are for you. I swear, never do this.)

Was I lying when I acted all Zen in front of my therapist? After eating a few onion rings dipped in tartar sauce, I decided no. I’m not afraid of grief. I just don’t want to invite it. Eight months into this shit show, I’m done with it. “Ha!” says grief. “I’ve been trying for two weeks to get your attention.” Losing patience, it finally crashed the party.

And now I’m home and feel worse than before. Goddamned onion rings didn’t help at all.

This morning probably should have taught me to make room for grief. Instead, it taught me that grief doesn’t care if I make room. Whether I like it or not, it occupies a permanent space in my life from here on out. It’s a filthy squatter that doesn’t pay rent—one I can never evict. Over time, I can try to clean it up, teach it some manners, and together we might one day peacefully coexist.

In the meantime, grief makes me sad. Just plain sad. And I hate it. I truly hate it.

12 thoughts on “Zen & Grief Goulash with a side of Onion Rings

  1. Your story really touched me. I appreciate deeply that you are able to hold many feelings and thoughts at the same time without falling total victim to thinking you MUST land on “one” and that this one is the only reality there is. We are complicated beings with seemingly contradictory perspectives. And yes—grief is a cluster f*ck of feelings that are bound to suck, thank you for daring to share the plain truth that it hurts.

  2. Thank you for sharing your raw truth about grief and its constant presence in such realness. I didn’t have an understanding of it until I lost my mom. I can relate to these words with every fiber of my being. Three years later and I am beginning to accept that grief is something that is always going to be there, popping up when I least expect it, with every one of those moments, my grief and I are becoming better at peacefully coexisting. I am working and learning using my grief journey as a guide, to be a better friend to my grieving “people”. Thank you for sharing your journey Kate, thank you for putting your feelings into words.

  3. It’s definitely wise to remain alone instead of forcing yourself to act festive. Many of us have a reason not to be thankful this year and that’s fine. I wish you peace and moments of magic! They are possible.

  4. I admire your way of really expressing the truth. I wish you long, deep breaths and comfort in the beauty of nature. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Oh Kate, This is so beautifully written and so relatable for me. I get it – big time. I am so proud of you in your taking charge of how you choose to embrace the holiday. You will get to know yourself in new ways, through tears, joys and embracing memories, in a way that you might not have otherwise. I really admire your ability to tap into the rawness of loss and grief and still be able to find the softness of humor to pad yourself. Lovely~

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