Have you heard? The holiday struggle has begun. It sounds like a new dance. Recently I was asked, “What are you doing for Thanksgiving?” Oh no. October has ended; the Halloween hysteria has dissipated. November and December are now arm-wrestling each other for first place. It’s typical chit chat between people now that “the season” is upon us. I’d just forgotten that I had to have an answer ready. Caught off guard, my reply;
“Well, I’m not sure yet.” I shrug, look away, hope for an interruption of some kind. No one wants to hear that kind of answer––they might have to try to fix your situation for you.
Troubled clouds of concern cross my friends’ faces. “Oh no,” they may be thinking, “she might be…alone.” I brace for the inevitable inquiries, silently berating myself for not having an uncomplicated answer like, “I’m going to my daughter’s…you?” So much easier, even if it’s a lie.
“Not going to Sam’s? How about your brother? Your sister?” In the seconds of pause that I have, these thoughts rush through my mind:
My daughter Sam and her wife Kim provided a wonderful Thanksgiving spread last year. It was also Sam’s birthday, so it was a bonus day. My mother, uncle, sister, and Kim’s mother (up from MD) were all there. We had a wonderful day of delicious food, drink, relaxation and laughter. The pictures from that day show a rare side of my mother, laughing and even goofing around with my daughter. It was unusual for her to be in a good mood, being as sick as she was at the time. I am grateful for those images, grateful for my daughter to have them.
Since then, my mother has died. My father had died only months before. Our family dynamic has shifted. The next few months are now loaded with uncertainties; where are “we” going and what are “we” doing? My brother and his family live in VT. One of my nieces lives in NC. My sister and I are not close. My uncle prays for some kind of miraculous reconciliation between me and my sister. I’ve told him that I’m doing the best I can, and I am: I am finally caring more about my own mental health than everyone else’s.
There are equal parts pall and relief this year and it is okay. I don’t want to decide anything this year. The last three to four years have been tainted by illness and stress. Each holiday was deemed “the last,” each get together meant to be *extra special*, just in case. This season is emptier, but not unwelcome. At least not right now. For me, a break is needed from the exertions of caretaker and decision maker. It is too difficult to create the cheeriness one must possess to keep others happy and at bay. I can’t fake it, not this year. Although there is some happiness, this time of year produces an array of emotions; warm memories from the past, anguish over the loss of loved ones, financial stress, loneliness, melancholy. It is a mixed bag each year.
I know that I am not alone in wishing for simpler times; a time when Thanksgiving and Christmas were holidays to be enjoyed, a time when everyone you loved was still alive. There was no struggle. When I was a kid, my family would dress up and go to my Nanny Kyrouz’s house for a feast. The dining room table would be set with all of the “good” dishware and cloth napkins. The fragrance from the kitchen was amazing, and little extras that only made an appearance at winter meals (like cranberry sauce and squash pie) graced the table. I loved the green celery sticks perfectly sliced, lying in a pretty glass dish. We would smoosh stuffing into the creases then drizzle them with gravy. The saltiness and crunch, the moist tastiness of the stuffing––heaven. All the kids had the locally made “Twin Lights” gingerale in fancy glasses and there were seconds, (even thirds!), of everything on the table. So much abundance, in so many ways.
The television was tuned to the Macy’s Day Parade or football. Some of us would make it to the local high school game and come back chilled and ravenous. The storm door and windows of the house would be steamed up from all the cooking going on in my grandmother’s small kitchen. I would tiptoe in, eager to sample a piece of skin off of the turkey. Grampy would be slicing though it with an antiquated serrated electric knife that he only used once or twice a year. I had to pretend that I was just looking around, uninterested in the big fat bird, glistening with crunchy, browned, buttery skin. Grampy used to slip me a little slice when Nanny wasn’t looking. Other family members would be doing the same thing, circling like vultures, until Nanny shooed us out of there.
I miss my grandparents so much.
Today, many folks lament that we “can’t wait for the holidays to be over.” What a disappointing sentiment. Though I’m not ready to dive in this year, I don’t hate the season. It’s just tricky when there’s been great change. I have no idea what to do next. I think as a society there is still too much pressure for our lives to be filled with goodwill, cheer, and perfection from November 1st through the New Year. Oh gosh, forgot about that one. The message being sent is, “Please go into the frigid fields of denial and don’t come back until January.”
So, stand back––Christmas is straining Thanksgiving’s arm in the match, forcing the next round of questioning. I must get my replies in line. The New Year will be banging on the door like a neglected toddler; “Me, me, me! My turn!” I’m not sure what I’ll do about that day, either…it’s the final limb in the trifecta that is “the holidays.”
The struggle, my friends, is real. Good health to you all xx