Thanks to text messages I know a few things about November 23, 2017. I know we went to my sister’s house for Thanksgiving dinner and tried to seem normal. I know there were so many of us that the kids’ playroom needed to be appropriated. I know Matt went to bed soon after the kids fell asleep and I sat awake, texting and watching re-runs of old sitcoms.
I don’t remember if Matt had fun or if he managed to find a little bit of that Matt humor to entertain the others at the table. I don’t remember if he read G and H a book before bed. I don’t remember if we exchanged gossip we’d collected at dinner and made plans for the future. I don’t remember, but I have a guess.
One year ago, on November 23, 2017, we celebrated our last Thanksgiving. Another last. Another last which should be memorable, if for no reason other than that it’s a national holiday. And yet, I have nothing to say about this last beyond what I’ve shared—no spectacular flash of memory, no razor edged story. Not even a hope inspiring anecdote to give meaning to this day.
I don’t know what that says about this last. Maybe we didn’t make it meaningful enough? I knew by November 23rd that (most likely) we didn’t have a lifetime ahead of us, but no part of me even considered that we might not even have a year. It didn’t occur to me that this might be our last Thanksgiving together, that I might want to stop the forward momentum of the day and tell Matt all the things I was grateful for.
This year, yesterday, we (G, H, and I) celebrated our first Thanksgiving without Matt. We once again went to my sister’s house. But this time, there were only a few of us and we didn’t need to spread into the kids’ playroom. This year, we didn’t leave early, despite the grief wave that hit G and H so hard they ended the night clinging to my legs. This year, our Thanksgiving dinner will be memorable for all it was missing.
As I write this post—and in light of the posts the last few days—I find myself wondering whether I wish we’d done everything differently. What if we’d listened—really listened—to what the doctors were telling us? What if I didn’t find reasons to disregard all the studies I’d read about leptomeningeal disease in GBM patients? What if we had acknowledged that November 23, 2017 could be a last Thanksgiving? If we’d faced reality rather than clung to hope, what would the day have looked like? Would it have been more memorable?
Maybe we would have slowed down. Maybe we would have sat and talked to each other and stopped trying to appear normal—I doubt we were fooling anyone, anyway. Maybe I would have told him I was so grateful for the years we’d been given, because they were the very best of my life.
Maybe. But maybe not. Because no matter how hard I try, I can’t imagine a reality in which either Matt or I would be able to accept that our situation was hopeless—we were both way too stubborn to admit defeat. We had way too much (possibly naively placed) hope. And I can’t regret that. That stubborn, naive hope reminds me that a spark of the real Matt and Elaine remained, even then, even when it seemed we (the Matt and Elaine I knew) had all but vanished.
For this first Thanksgiving, which was marked by waves of grief and gratitude, I found myself grateful for a number of things. Not only family and friends, but also the hope that blazed through our story, the hope that kept us going forward and also kept us anchored to a version of ourselves that was disappearing too fast.