It was three years ago this Thanksgiving season that I suffered one of the most significant losses that I have ever experienced. November 2011 was when my brother, Matt and his wife, Teresa experienced the loss of their 4 month old baby boy, Axel, to a genetic mitochondrial disease. The sudden on-set condition ended up rooting itself into every single cell in my baby nephew’s body, leaving it incapable of converting food or oxygen into life-sustaining energy.
Honestly, the whole experience is a teary blur at this point in time. I faintly remember tubes and beeping monitors, piles of stuffed animals at the foot of Ax’s bed, faces drained of color, icy cold hands, and long silent drives to and from Children’s Hospital. Contrastingly, I also remember the love and support of family and friends in the midst of nearly impenetrable sadness.
Interestingly enough the backdrop to this traumatic experience just happened to be my most favorite holiday of the year – Thanksgiving.
I love Thanksgiving and I always have. I mean really? An entire holiday based on the premise of giving thanks, eating and relaxation? Count me in. I’ve always loved the smells, the sounds, the chilly weather and the promise of Christmas around the corner…that and eating so much that it’s perfectly acceptable to lay comatose most of the day…now that’s a pretty primo holiday in my book.
Needless to say Thanksgiving has been forever changed for me. It’s still my favorite holiday…no actually it’s been downgraded to my 3rd favorite Holiday, if I must rank them. The details of this holiday are pretty much the same as they always were – wake up, drink coffee, chat, snack, play, eat, chat, drink coffee, nap, eat, play, snack, sleep, etc. However since that fateful Thanksgiving 3 years ago, the essence has forever changed… interestingly enough in a very valuable way.
Rather than celebrating blessings of abundance and gluttony, I also see Thanksgiving as an opportunity to be thankful, not just for the warm fuzzy aspects of my life of which I have many, but also for the shitty, catastrophic, uncomfortable, life-altering, world-colliding situations that compose the individual texture and hue of each of our lives. Regardless of if it’s pleasant…and lots of times it’s not…this is the stuff that makes our lives the intricately crafted narratives that they are… and truly worth living.
I wrote a blog post shortly after Ax’s death, found here, in which I recounted my struggle to find valuable lessons and takeaways from this horrible situation.
As conveyed in my original post,
“While there are no winners or silver linings when it comes to encountering the death of a young loved one, there are often valuable, even cryptic takeaways that can assist in the recovery process and help to regain perspective.”
….at least that’s what I was looking for.
After much thought, procrastination, internal conflict, and bowls of cereal I was able to find a couple. However, several years later one of the most important lessons that has remained is gratitude
even especially in the midst of tragedy.
I’m not grateful that this situation happened. It still absolutely stuns me to the core when I think about it. However, it was a catalyst that continues to help me realize that life is composed of light and dark, good and bad, yin and yang and only when experiencing this contrast and tasting the sour can we appreciate the harmony and enjoy the sweet.
Here’s a quote from my new favorite book, The Desire Map by Danielle Laporte.
“To be whole is to make space for the full range of human emotion.”
Only by truly living and feeling the dark can we make space for and appreciate the light.
It’s these scars on our souls, the big gnarly blisters on our feet and the pockmarks on our skin that really tell our stories and teach us lessons like nothing else can. Like the small dent in my forehead that reminds me to not squeeze that zit next time but to just be patient and it will go away. Or the small scar on my index finger that reminds me to chop garlic with a bit more precision next time, but also in a weird and beautiful way makes my hand different than anybody else’s.
These flaws and war wounds help illustrate our tragedies which often overpower our triumphs when it comes to creating our unique and individual stories. They make us beautiful and define who we are. They help us remember what we could do better next time and remind us how beautiful things really are once the swelling goes down.
And I think Ax would be happy with the part he played in this profound deduction.
So this Thanksgiving, in the midst of turkey overdose and light family banter, there will be sadness in the fact that a certain little guy won’t be joining us. But there will also be thanks in the fact that I knew him if even for a short time and the indelible mark he and his story had on the masterpiece that is my life.
I’d love to hear from you…Is there a crap storm or pockmark that you’re thankful for this Thanksgiving that has helped to shape your life?