I have two holidays that I love. My favorite is Halloween with Thanksgiving being a close runner up. I thought about all the holidays and birthdays celebrated in our rather large families, and wondered why I align myself to these specific holidays over all the others? Especially when Christmas appears to be everyone else's favorite.

I have to admit, liking Halloween as much as I do is a stumper. Am I enamored with the idea that you can become someone or something completely different, you know assume another identity, just for the hell of it? Does it speak of my need to escape from reality once in a while? Does it speak of a childhood memory lodged deep in my memory? Is it because of the candy?

Perhaps it is all the above. Truth be told, I like the somewhat false ideas I have (at least for Arizona) of the chilled autumn air, overcast skies, crunchy autumn leaves drifting to the sidewalks, close-knit neighborhoods and homes without fences, and happy people overjoyed to appreciate all the kids they see on a regular basis all dressed up. And then there is candy. At 50, I still LOVE candy and the idea of a free bag of it with the rare permission to eat what I want still boggles the brain!

I had my firstborn son on Halloween, which was no trick but the ultimate treat. I remember my mom saying "figures you'd have him on Halloween!" which still makes me smile a little. Who knew you could predetermine to have a baby on the holiday of your choosing?! Before I left to deliver him I had to make sure the house was decorated, there was plenty of candy and my husband knew what to do. And by the way, our second son was due on Halloween as well, but being more anxious to greet the world he came a week early. So close… but missed it by this much!

When I think of Thanksgiving my mind again conjures images of old neighborhoods, giant oak trees that have shed their manes leaving their multicolored leaves to blanket the ground. I can smell a turkey and a ham baking, their unique smells melding into one unique aroma that makes my tummy rumble. The smell of various other dishes tantalizes the senses even more. There is the buzz and hustle of too many people in the house, kids crying, others talking louder than the others just to be heard, people underfoot, others trying to sneak a taste of whatever was on the counter and mom slapping their hands (usually my brother Dax).

But these are images and memories from another time and place; experiences from 45 years ago. So why are they so rooted in my life today?

The best I can guess is that it was a very specific time in my life when I truly felt protected and safe. I knew my parents were always going to be there. I was surrounded by "the kids” - my other brothers and sisters, our house was nice, and food was plentiful. I felt safe. In my little mind it meant family, food, protection and love. Those innocent feelings would soon be replaced by reality and the feeling of never really feeling safe again but my brain held onto the memory as what, a symbol of hope?

Unlike all the other holidays, there were no gifts needed. All that was required was people to make it good. And I have to give kudos to my mom. I know Christmas is her favorite holiday, but she was really fantastic at making all holidays great. At Halloween she could make costumes materialize out of nothing (much like dinner) and at Christmas she could make the house and tree look so beautiful you didn't care a bit about presents (though my younger brother and I did look at the Sears and JC Penney catalog for hours on end dog-earing every other page!)

This Thanksgiving I have a new awareness of what the holiday means to me. I have to give thanks to my husband who has always made me feel safe even during the darkest times of my life. To my family who even in times of strife manage to come together (okay mostly), to my friends who have remained by our sides through thick and thin, and to my beautiful, intelligent children - all of them my li'l pumpkins.

While the images of the Midwest neighborhoods and landscapes will probably never again be reality to me, that glimmer of hope provided by a long ago memory has become a new reality for me. I realized today that although I have gone through a lot of bad shit in my life, I am safe and I am protected and once again I am surrounded by family, food, protection and love.

And on this Thanksgiving I give special thanks to my husband and love of my life, Kevin. Happy Birthday!

I encourage each of you during this Thanksgiving to sit back and think on the holidays that mean the most to you. Identify the reasons for loving some so much and other not and approach the upcoming holidays with a new understanding of the past, how these memories are driving you forward and embrace the holidays coming up as a source for potential change and hope.

Ursula Neal

Ursula is a grief coach for mothers who have lost children helping them to move from crappy to happy again. She is also a personal growth strategist helping individuals reach their goals. She may be reached at 602-400-4423 or ursula@CompassReset.com. Facebook Google+

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