After ‘So Much Sadness,’ What Is There to Be Thankful For?
“There is so much sadness,” Ms. Pomeroy, 48, said. “Not only do you not know how to function in society, you just don’t even know what to say to God anymore.”
For more than a decade, Ms. Pomeroy and her family made holiday dinner for the congregants at First Baptist. This year, she is cooking 10 turkeys, she said, as she is expecting many Texans from outside the congregation to fill the void left by those who died.
“They were all a big part of our Thanksgiving,” she said of the dead. “And they all helped. And they would have all said — if it was the shoe on the other foot, they would have all said: ‘We’ve got to go on. This is what God has called us to do.’”
“And I just know that I’m not going to dishonor them by giving up. Because then their lives would be in vain. Or their deaths would be in vain.”
‘I don’t feel like doing anything.’
This year, instead of turkey and mashed potatoes, the traditional prayer before the meal and the long football game afterward, Regina Rodriguez wants to stay home, in bed.
Her father, Richard, was murdered in Sutherland Springs. He raised her, and they were close.
“I don’t feel like doing anything,” Ms. Rodriguez, 33, said. “I really don’t. I’m trying to figure out everything with my dad — Did he have life insurance? Did he have a will? It’s just a lot of stuff, a lot of stuff that’s going on, and I’m trying to take care of it before it’s time to go back to work, and my kids are not doing too good, and I don’t know if I should take some more time off of work —.”
She paused. In recent days she had been having panic attacks. Her son Jordan, 6, had begun vomiting before bedtime.
“I wish I could say we will have a happy Thanksgiving this year,” she said. “But I don’t think we will.”
‘The kids are going to be sad. But what can you do?’
Back home on that wounded island where Raymond Ortiz’s relatives and neighbors are still waiting for water and power, a Puerto Rican Thanksgiving will somehow go on: Turkey and gravy, stuffed pasteles, rice and beans.
Mr. Ortiz, his wife and teenage son and daughter will be eating thousands of miles away at his sister’s home, in their adoptive town of Rocky Mount, N.C.
They joined an exodus of tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans after Hurricane Maria, and have been adjusting to life on the mainland. Mr. Ortiz grew up in New York, so it feels like a homecoming to him. But his wife and children have spent almost their entire lives on Puerto Rico, and spoke little English when they arrived.
The family is grateful for power and running water, for supermarkets overflowing with affordable groceries, for the pine-scented air. But their gratitude has qualifiers.
They are grateful Mr. Ortiz’s sister is letting them stay at her house, but they will soon need to find a place of their own. They are thankful they feel safe and stable, but Mr. Ortiz’s wife is not working, and their 16-year-old son has struggled to get over his shyness and the language barriers at school.
“We’ll celebrate everything like normal, just without the family,” Mr. Ortiz said of his relatives in Puerto Rico. “My wife’s going to be crying. The kids are going to be sad. But what can you do? Those are the sacrifices you have to make.”
‘Part of me didn’t have it in me.’
Every November, inside the family home that is now ash and rubble waiting to be carted away, Megan Condron would make a “gratitude tree” that she and her children would foliate with paper leaves describing everything they were thankful for.
“November is the biggest month for gratitude,” Ms. Condron, 38, said.
Ms. Condron, her husband and their 8-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter have been living with her husband’s parents, and she said they have been overwhelmed by all the love, donations, gifts, meals and support from friends, family and strangers. But when her son, Mason, pointed out that the family hadn’t set up their “thankful tree” this year, Ms. Condron said she just felt like she couldn’t do it. Not with so much unmoored and dislocated.
“Part of me didn’t have it in me,” she said. “We don’t have the space. This isn’t our house. I haven’t done it.”
‘I know it’s going to be hard.’
He is thankful for the time he did have with her, for the extra moments and bonus days together that he never realized would be so finite.
That is what Lance Miller says now, as he thinks about the first Thanksgiving without his sister, Hannah Ahlers, 34, who was killed in the mass shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas last month.
Ms. Ahlers was “huge on every holiday,” Mr. Miller said. She loved to decorate the Beaumont, Calif., home she shared with her husband and three children. Her Thanksgiving dinners were a plate of Americana: turkey, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, and everyone at the table taking turns to say why they were thankful. They had all been planning to spend this Thanksgiving together, Mr. Miller said.
“But, you know,” he said.
Mr. Miller spent 21 years in the military, much of it apart from Ms. Ahlers and her family. Then he and his family recently moved to Beaumont, where they were a two-minute drive away. He stayed with Ms. Ahlers while the builders finished his family’s home. The families saw each other all the time. He is grateful they got that time. He is grateful, now, that he still lives near her family.
“We’re here to help them,” Mr. Miller said. “I know it’s going to be hard.”
‘That’s our mantra: Just stay close with your family.’
This is the first Thanksgiving without Neysa Tonks, and her family wondered how they should spend the day. They put the question to Ms. Tonks’s three sons, who had one simple answer: Be together.
The family’s close bonds grew even tighter in the weeks since Ms. Tonks, 46, was killed in the Las Vegas shooting, her parents and sister said. Her parents moved in with Ms. Tonks’s sons. Relatives often just wanted to be with one another, sitting close in the same room. They wear matching shirts with her name on the sleeves.
“That’s our mantra: Just stay close with your family,” Ms. Tonks’s mother, Debbie Davis, said.
Ms. Tonks’s sister, Mynda Smith, offered to serve Thanksgiving dinner at her Las Vegas home, and the guest list swelled to 30 people: a brother from Salt Lake City, friends, family and onetime strangers who became like family after the shooting.
Since the shooting, Ms. Smith and her parents say they have tried to notice and appreciate small moments of beauty or gratitude that might have slipped by before. A friend sending a smiley-face emoji. A quick check-in text message. Memories of whipped-cream fights during past holidays, or the time years ago when a young Ms. Tonks bolted from the table rather than eat her sweet potatoes.
“You learn to appreciate the people who surround you so much more,” Ms. Smith said. “Since the shooting, we’ve said, ‘You have to find light. You have to find the beauty.’ It’s out there. Darkness is so strong, but light is stronger.”
‘We were in need and they felt in their heart that they were going to help.’
On Thanksgiving Day, Aracely Martinez-Ramirez will pull on a donated red dress and head to church, where she will tell everyone what has happened to her in the last few months.
In August, when Hurricane Harvey flooded Houston, Ms. Martinez-Ramirez, 20, led her three little sisters through churning, chest-high water. With no help in sight, she didn’t think they would make it out alive.
When she did, she learned that the storm had destroyed her home, and that the president was considering ending the visa program that allowed her and other young immigrants — so-called Dreamers — to stay in the United States.
Everything she had built seemed to be falling apart. Deportation was a possibility.
But the Federal Emergency Management Agency came through, she said, providing aid that allowed her family to buy another home. United States Citizenship and Immigration Services renewed her visa, allowing her to stay.
And at a time when anti-immigrant rhetoric seemed to have hit a fever pitch, dozens of people she didn’t know reached out to help. They sent food, clothing, couches, refrigerators and more.
This is where she sees grace this Thanksgiving.
“Nobody cared, or even asked, ‘Are you undocumented? Are you illegal?’ Nobody did that,” she said. “We were in need and they felt in their heart that they were going to help.”