Thanksgiving Leftovers

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

There’s something so cozy about it. The morning watching the parade in pajamas. Lingering in the kitchen asking mom if she needs help with anything, but actually there wondering, “how much longer?” Everyone dressed in sweatshirts or flannel, gathered around the table, eating indulgently delicious food.

And don’t forget the pie. (Don’t worry, I know you’d never do such a thing.)

I love family traditions. I love hearing others share exactly how they’ll spend the day, which family member they’re most excited to see (and which member they’re least excited to see, because I’m here for family gossip), and which of their mom’s or grandma’s or aunt’s famous dishes they can’t wait to devour.

In my own familial nucleus, there haven’t really been many traditions that held up past the three of us kids becoming adults. (We did have a pretty rockin’ Christmas Eve ritual; we’d open our Christmas pajamas from mom and dad, change into them before heading to dinner, then make our way through the Festival of Lights. We’d arrive home just in time to get to bed before Santa’s arrival mom and dad began wrapping all of our presents.)

Then, two days after Christmas, we’d always head to Zanesville, OH to the same Holiday Inn to spend three days with part of our family from Michigan.

Thanksgiving was less set-in-stone than Christmas. We usually hosted, and the 5 of us (mom, dad, sister, brother, and I) were always together. We were often joined by my aunt, uncle, and cousins who lived in Greensboro, my grandma and grandpa on dad’s side when they were still with us, and my grandma and aunt on my mom’s side would fly down every other year.

And there always seemed to be at least one guest appearance. A friend of one of us kids, or our neighbors one year, or an aunt and cousin from Michigan who decided to make the trip to North Carolina.

My parents, sister, brother, and I were the common denominators. Except for that year my sister was in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. (Wait, what?)

Then, somewhere along the line, we grew up. There were significant others that joined us, or pulled us away. My brother moved to California. My sister got married. My grandma doesn’t make the trip anymore from Michigan.

Three years ago mom, dad, and I spent Thanksgiving Day with my aunt, uncle, and cousins in Greensboro.

Two years ago, it was just mom, dad, and I. I refused to leave town because my best friend was going to pop out a baby at any moment, and they stayed with me. We spent Thanksgiving Day seeing Thor: Ragnarok, and dined a la Waffle House. (Don’t knock it, man.)

Last year mom and dad made the trip to Michigan to be with family; I stayed home and spent Thanksgiving Day with the friend who’d had a baby a year prior and her family.

This year, things were even more…weird.

My aunt in Greensboro passed in April.

That best friend is regrettably no longer part of my life.

We all carry an invisible weight on our backs of my dad’s diagnosis as we live between scans.

For Thanksgiving this year, mom, dad, the doggos, and I trekked to Tennessee to visit an aunt and uncle (one of dad’s sisters and her husband.) There were to be nine of us; my uncle whose wife passed in April (Uncle Greg) was going to join us, along with his daughter (my cousin), her husband, and their daughter.

Uncle Greg called Tuesday to say that they wouldn’t be able to make it, and each of us felt a heave of disappointment.

We wanted so badly to spend the day with Greg and Maegan in their first Thanksgiving without Aunt Kate.

But it wasn’t about us.

I resisted as best I could the urge to pout…this wasn’t about me.

Which, I realize logically that most things are, in fact, not about me. But this is a fact I tend to forget ignore quite often.

This was undoubtedly going to be the hardest Thanksgiving Greg and Maegan have ever had. And so they did what was best for them. And we did what was best for us.

We’re all just trying our best out here in this life of illness and heartbreak and loss.

This time of year tends to be the most difficult time for those who are grieving. Because you think about your traditions, and the people you shared those traditions with…those people who are no longer in your life.

And the remembering can sting. But it can also comfort.

Grief and gratitude are not mutually exclusive.

You can be sad and confused and angry at the world, and still give thanks. Because if you’re sad and confused and angry at the world, that means you have cared/do care about someone more than you care about yourself.

And that’s pretty wonderful.

I actually think about Aunt Kate every time I write a blog post. Because she was one of my biggest fans, and an avid reader and commenter when she was able to be.

Does it sting like hell and bring tears to my eyes to think about that? Of course. But does it also bring a smile to face, and ping of warmth to my heart?

You’re damn right it does.

(Mom, dad, Aunt Kate, and I.)

So squeeze those you can, and hope for many more Thanksgivings together in years to come. (And most importantly, many more shared pies.)