In my home culture this is the season we count our blessings and take a moment to say thanks for all the good and wonderful things in our lives. But sometimes Thanksgiving falls smack in the middle of sorrow. What then?
In my first 40+ years I had lost relatives and said goodbye to dear friends, but had been spared the Sorrow that shows up every day – unwanted, unwelcome, and unrelenting. Then my mom showed undeniable signs of Alzheimer’s. As providence would have it, I was on a year of home assignment, living near my mom and dad, as we started down this unfamiliar path of a long goodbye.
The symptoms and stages my mom experiences have been textbook Alzheimer’s, but there’s no normalizing these things when it’s your mom. When the most generous, kind person you know becomes suspicious and angry. When the person you could always count on to faithfully cheer you on can no longer show up for the game. When the person who nurtured and loved you your whole life can’t remember your name.
Sorrow kept showing up in the morning and wouldn’t leave though I tried to shoo her out the door and refused to let her win. Until I could not. All the options had been exhausted and I was left helplessly watching my mom slip into confusion, anxiety, and well, nothingness. Then Sorrow came in like a flood, carrying all my strength and motivation into murky, muddied waters.
I didn’t want this long goodbye. I didn’t want my ever-faithful dad to endure all the trauma and heartache a caregiver experiences as his sweetheart leaves him bit by bit. And I sure didn’t want to come face to face with my own disappointing lack of strength, my profound capacity for foolishness, my own frailty. My preference was escape, to stumble down a path of denial and cowgirl toughness.
But once I accepted the invitation to walk with Sorrow, the long goodbye morphed into a journey of gratitude. Sorrow led me down paths of memories of the richness of all my mom had poured into me. I remembered my mom stroking my hair as I laid my toddler head in her lap while she worshipped. I remembered snippets of wise words and gentle laughter and grace-filled admonitions. And most of all, I recalled her ordinary, everyday acts of extraordinary, selfless love of which I was a primary beneficiary.
Sorrow instructed me to pay attention as my mom continues to teach me, this time how to live in the moment because frankly, that’s all she has. Loss shifted to gratitude. Lament became praise. Longings to understand changed to longings to just be with my mom on this journey.
Sorrow did something else for me, marking my soul with deeper, richer understanding of the ways of the Man of Sorrows, who is well acquainted with grief. And for that, I am grateful beyond measure.
Where in your journey are you learning to let Sorrow lead you to gratitude?