The last two Thanksgivings, I was such a mess that gave no thought to how I could honor my daughters at our table. Consumed by grief and fear, it was all I could do to make it through a day where gratitude is the overwhelming expectation. Only a few days ago it occurred to me that I wanted to do something for Nelle and Iris at our Thanksgiving table. For some reason, it became stuck in my mind that I wanted two little birds as part of the centerpiece. Furthermore, I knew exactly what those birds should look like. Years ago, I had two silver glass birds as part of our holiday decor. One had shattered, either as a result of a plummet to the floor or possible one of our many home moves, but I had kept the other. They were beautiful and delicate, and I thought if I could find something like those birds, it would be a perfect addition to our table.
Of course, nothing can ever play out like it does in my mind. I went to several stores, confined in the amount of time I had by needing to pick the kids up from a birthday party. Unable to find anything that even closely fit the “look” I wanted, I turned to online shopping, thinking that I would even pay rush shipping to have the birds arrive by Thanksgiving. Nothing jumped out at me.
Finally, after searching through dozens of birds, I found a set on Amazon. They were silver metal with a pattern stamped on the wings. Each of the two birds held a different pose, which I thought better suited two unique children. But the birds were out of stock, not expected to ship until near the end of November. I kept looking and looking, but could not find anything that I liked nearly as much. I saw those birds sitting with us at Thanksgiving and many other holiday meals.
I had to talk myself into being ok with a different representation for this Thanksgiving, and the silver birds could join us in the future. But what could be a meaningful substitute in such short order? Finally it came to me. My aunt had given me two carved wooden birds, that have long been sitting on the windowsill in my living room. The same aunt owns the land where the Sheltering Oak tree spreads to the sky and Nelle and Iris’s ashes have been scattered below, along with my grandfather. The birds from my aunt would tie in the place where they lie to the place where we sit.
I briefly considered: could these wooden birds be that centerpiece going forward, not just for this meal? Did I still need the silver birds? I finally decided no, they would be fine for today, but they have been in my life for so long, never before considered as anything other than a gift that I could not “transform” them into something else. Better to start fresh with the silver birds and gratefully accept these as a substitute for this Thanksgiving. Their significance will be known only to me, as I didn’t even mention to Ger as we prepared for the holiday meal. It wasn’t something that he needed, but it was something that I needed.
So along with a tablecloth, white ceramic pumpkins, and candles, the wooden birds will sit in our midst as we are joined by friends for our Thanksgiving meal. We have a tradition in our house of passing around a handkerchief (dubbed the “thankerchief”) on Thanksgiving and expressing our gratitude out loud. I don’t remember what I managed to say the past two years, but this year I think I will be able to find my heart a little more open.
As I took a bath after the guests had gone and the food packed away, I wrote a small poem enveloping how the day has made me feel for the past few years.
plentiful or meager
friends gathered or solitude
I miss you.
thankful seems burdensome
emptiness is bountiful
silence feels merciful
Instead, table is filled.