Thanksgiving Day, for me, was a day of reflection. It wasn’t a day of celebration, but a day of coming to grips with a totally different life. We had a Thanksgiving dinner on Sunday, so more could be here. I didn’t really have the enthusiasm to do it, but my youngest daughter told me multiple times it was her favorite holiday. Point taken. My granddaughters kept talking about Meemaw’s mashed potatoes, so I did it. The blessing was tough on my oldest daughter and I saw the pain in her eyes. I cheated on dinner and most of it came from Cracker Barrel. I was glad I did it in the end, because it was time together we hadn’t had since Rick died.
I spent most of Thanksgiving Day alone, my choice, declining invitations that normally feel very comfortable. I became keenly aware of smoldering emotions that I did not want to take to someone else’s celebration. Although everyone understands, I knew I couldn’t handle it. The day was quiet, Lucy and I watched the parade, took a ride to play with Homer and Blue, and ate spaghetti. I really was ok, but my emotions were not. I reflected a lot on my life, as a child, as a wife, as a mother and as a friend. All of this kept taking me to the first weekend of March every year when “The Wizard of Oz” was shown on TV. You couldn’t see this movie any other time and I looked forward to it with great anticipation.
Why am I talking about a movie you are thinking. Dorothy lived a pretty benign existence on the farm and then one day out of nowhere, she was picked up by a cyclone/tornado and deposited in a brand new world. She didn’t ask for this and she didn’t want this, but that is where she found herself. All she wanted was for life to return to what she had known before, her family and friends intact and happy. Isn’t that sort of what happens in grief? Regardless of the circumstances, all of a sudden, we find ourselves in a world we know nothing about. It is uncomfortable and painful and all we really want is to have back what and who we lost. I realized that this journey on the yellow brick road is much like the grief journey. It is the searching for something that we once had. For Dorothy it was a farm in Kansas and for me it is Hope and eventually Joy. Most grievers spend a lot of time trying to find their way, trying to figure out how to navigate this new world. The bottom line is, we, like Dorothy, must follow the yellow brick road for answers.
Along the journey, Dorothy meets the scarecrow, who instantly becomes her friend and her companion on her journey. The scarecrow’s desire is to have a brain. He sings and dances exuding happiness, but he is missing something. That missing makes him yearn for things to be different. He thinks if he had a brain his life would be improved. Yet the scarecrow is instrumental in all the decisions made to help Dorothy find her way. This is one of the most difficult things about the grief journey, searching for something, thinking you should be this or that, wondering if your brain is ever going to allow you to think clearly again, wondering if your ability to concentrate will return. The constant yearning for things to be different, and to eventually be ok with the differences is exhausting. So while the scarecrow is looking for a brain, the griever is looking for peace and understanding, a safe place, where the pain is not so intense.
Next is the encounter with the Tin Man, structurally a pile of metal pieced together with screws. He reveals he is searching desperately for a heart. He feels incomplete and unable to feel and is convinced a heart would change his life. A heart really does change your life because on the grief journey, your heart is broken. There is a lot of time and energy spent trying to repair it, but in the end your heart will always be missing a piece, the piece that belonged to your loved one. This missing piece cannot be repaired or replaced, but instead you start to methodically store your memories there, filling that empty space carefully, gingerly and eventually the raw pain softens. Throughout the journey, the tin man took care of Dorothy even putting himself in danger. In the end he had the biggest heart of all because he loved his little group of misfits and took care of them.
Of course everyone remembers the Cowardly Lion and what he deemed his lack of courage. At first, he couldn’t see past what he thought were his cowardly ways. He wanted more than anything to be brave and courageous and be able to stand tall among the other animals. In the beginning of the grief journey, we feel weak, scared, unsure, and all we want is our life back. We may feel weak and mere shadows of our former self. We don’t know the person we’ve become, nor do we generally like the new “us”. If we were leaders, we want to be leaders again, but what holds us back is the courage to take a step forward to healing. Many think healing means forgetting, but honestly, it’s the exact opposite. Healing is carrying our loved one forward and sharing whatever role they played in your life with those who didn’t get to know them, never letting them be forgotten.
The Cowardly Lion stepped up when he needed to, faltering at times and even rethinking his decisions, only to find he was much braver than he realized. He did it for himself and he did it for those that became important to him. In the end, he was proud of himself for taking a chance.
On the grief journey, we have to take a chance, to believe the new world we are thrust into, although not what you wanted or planned, can be a happy one. We have to take those steps forward or there is no future for us. Some days we falter, some days we backslide, some days we don’t even have the energy to try, but then comes the day we stand tall and kick that leg forward and find it feels ok. Another step follows and eventually we might even jog a little, but every now and then we have to stop and rest, take care of ourselves and sit with our grief. See, every single day is different and you never know what’s around the bend.
The story culminates with Dorothy finding the kingdom of Oz and meeting the Wizard. All her hopes and dreams are bashed when she finds out he is just a regular guy and does not have magical powers. Dorothy realizes that her ability to get home and find happiness really is up to her.
Isn’t that really what we need to do. There is no one with magical powers that can make this go away. It is a fact that we have to do this on our own power in our own time. We are responsible for our own healing, because we, like Dorothy, have the ability to live and be happy. It just takes the journey to get the answers.
So although like the Scarecrow our brain is affected, and like the Tin Man our heart is broken and like the Cowardly Lion we are afraid to take a chance, we look around us at our family and friends, those who have walked alongside us, and like Dorothy we keep searching.
Dorothy was different after her experience and so are we, but different can be ok if we learn from our experiences. Her journey had a happy ending as she found her way home, but I bet she was grieving her friends left behind. Although I’m not guaranteed a “happy ending” I know my brain, my heart and my courage will get me wherever I need to be.
Today the maze was lined with yellow bricks, strategically guiding me toward a goal. It was nice to have these guys at my side today, sharing and caring, and showing me the way.