Thanksgiving is one of my favorite times of year. Partly because of the sweet potato casserole with the marshmallows on top, and partly because everyone comes together to just eat and have a good time and give thanks. When we lived away from family or couldn’t travel, we had a habit of inviting anyone and everyone who didn’t have a place to go, and people always came and always brought interesting additions for the table. Like the year we had a Tofurky, and Japanese food! So fun.
One reason I don’t love Thanksgiving is because it’s so close to my birthday. Everyone just expected that it was ok to combine the two and I never had just a day for me. Maybe that explains why I have a hard time with birthday celebrations for myself, who knows. 14 years ago, my birthday took on a whole other meaning when my sweet Grandma Selma, who was dying from lung cancer and holding on for the birth of my first son, couldn’t hold on anymore, and she passed away on my birthday. Ever my guardian angel, it was bittersweet for sure, but in true Selma fashion, she was making a statement to me that my birthday mattered. I will always be thankful for that parting gift.
This year’s birthday takes another turn, this one truly painful, because someone I cared for tremendously and who shared my birthday, died this past weekend. Larry was too young and too good and so kind and loving, but his suffering was clearly too much for him to take and he found relief in the only way he thought he could, by taking his own life. I am devastated, but thankful he isn’t suffering anymore. I am experiencing a wide range of emotions and likely will be for a while, but I will always try to go to thankfulness, because I knew him and I am forever thankful for that. My whole family knew Larry, because he was also the neighborhood dentist and he treated most of us. Larry was the first to carry Totem Tamers in his office and he always carried Owl in his pocket. Even though he wasn’t a pediatric dentist, he also treated my kids, and I was dreading telling them. I reached out to my therapist for advice. She’s amazing. I spoke to a mom at school who has been brave enough to share her experience with her father’s suicide, in a school workshop for parents. She’s incredible. I also reached out to Imagine, a grief support center in New Jersey. They have Totem Tamers on hand as a tool for anyone who comes in seeking support after losing a loved one, and the people there are just amazing. I was emailed back by both the Founder and Program Director with resources and suggestions on how to tell my kids. I am thankful for all of those who helped.
The last two days have been so difficult trying to hold back the tears before telling the kids, but last night it was time. My ex-husband, who also knew Larry, came over and graciously told the kids because I wasn’t sure I could manage it clearly. He was great. When the kids asked what happened, we told them the truth and explained that sometimes the pain is so much that it seems like death is the only chance for relief. We explained that there are always other options other than suicide. We talked about Larry, and his dog, and his humor and his smile. We let them know that if they wanted to talk more about it, we were here for them. My 8 year old said, “It’s too hard to talk about it because it would take two days.” I asked him why it would take two days and he said “Because there is so much to say.” His big tears crashing down were enough to break my heart, but I am thankful that he too knew Larry, and was clearly affected by Larry’s kindness. It was interesting watching the other two boys react, one in silent tears and the other noting a bit of anger and confusion. Still, I am thankful that their Dad and I could sit together and share their grief and share our tears at this loss. Sadder still, was that when the boys left to go to their Dad’s house last night, it became painfully clear that one of the cats at their Dad’s house was not doing well. Mr. Honey, didn’t make it through the night and the boys had to wake to another loss. Mr. Honey, was a cat that my ex took in, along with another kitty, after a dear friend of ours passed away, years ago. Her kids, are forever thankful that he opened his heart and home. I worry about my kids and all this loss, but I am thankful that their Dad and I can be present and available to them.
There’s a lot of unrest in our nation today as we sit back and contemplate how far we have come or how it is we that we still haven’t come far enough, where people are still characterized by the color of their skin. I am thankful that there has been progress, but not naive enough to recognize that it hasn’t been enough. My dear friend Larry loved a good Prosecco. So this year, on our birthday, I will raise a glass to him, I will raise a glass to all those in pain and hope that they seek help, I will raise a glass to my family, my friends, and my nation, where I still believe hope exists. I am thankful for my voice and the opportunity to use it in this space and can only hope it helps someone else as much as it helps me. Find someone or something to be thankful for, because there’s plenty of hope in that, too.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline page or call 1-800-273-8255 24/7.
UPDATE: Larry was so special that he let me believe we had the same birthday, but his was in fact the day before. Hard to fathom that it’s already been a year of missing Larry.