My dad loved Thanksgiving for many of the same reasons I do: we spend the day with family, we eat delicious food, we laugh a lot, and we spend time sharing what we’re grateful for. Despite lots of love, this year was just a bit somber without him there.
Melissa and I were the first to arrive, and as siblings, nieces, nephews, and in-laws poured in, we hugged hello and got excited for the day to be underway.
The first time my previously-unnoticed queued-up tears fell was when my sister-in-law mentioned Dad’s funeral. Although the comment was just about someone who attended the mass, the word “funeral” did it. I felt a tear roll down the side of my face and I excused myself to the bathroom to have a little cry and compose myself.
The next time was when my mom walked in the door. It was strange to see her without him by her side. Usually we’d clear a path and help him to a seat, get him something to drink, and, throughout the day, all take turns spending time talking with him. Dad was very hard of hearing so it was impossible for him to participate in group conversations.
Because there’s so many of us, there were moments I’d forget he wasn’t there. Then reality would hit me. My heart would ache so I’d eat or drink something to try and bury the sadness or find a quiet corner to myself.
I got a few moments alone with my mom at the dessert table, and as her tears began to fall, she said “Nope, I promised your father this morning when I talked to him that I’d be strong for you kids.” I thought about what she said after I got home later that night. What if letting yourself cry is being strong? As someone who habitually stuffs down her emotions, I think the bravest thing someone can do is be vulnerable.
I think of something Brené Brown shared from her years of research on vulnerability. She found that you cannot selectively numb emotion. When we numb sadness, we numb joy. We numb happiness. If you don’t allow yourself to fully feel one, you teach yourself to not fully feel the others.
Well I want to feel all the joy dammit, so next Saturday, when we all get together for my father’s birthday, I’m going to let myself be brave and feel and not worry if my tears might make someone else uncomfortable. I’m worth it and so is my dad.