This year I find myself having a hard time getting into the holiday spirit. Maybe it’s because of the stress of the past several months which have taken a toll on our family, particularly me. Or maybe it’s just more realization that as we get older, there are so many changes in our lives that we have no control over. People, both family and friends, have passed out of our lives for various reasons, and many times we either cannot, or do not, get them back.
To compound these feelings of the holiday blues, this year there have been a number of serious illnesses and deaths of friends’ family members that have added to the remembrances of loss I’ve been feeling. This is also the first year our daughter is living in her own home with her new husband, and although we’re very happy for them, it’s still a bittersweet feeling having our only child married and starting her own family. And hosting the Thanksgiving dinner for the first time in her new home!
Thanksgiving was always a fun-filled time when we were all growing up. At least that’s how I remember it. There was always tons of food, and so many people crowded around the table. Everyone was happy, and getting along, making jokes with each other, as well as talking about plans for Christmas and visits to Santa Claus. It was definitely a simpler time, at least through my eyes as a youngster. As far as I knew, there were no worries about money, jobs, health issues, or any other number of problems that affect our families.
Or maybe as a child, we just didn’t notice those problems.
Unfortunately I only vaguely remember a few holidays spent with my family with my dad also there. Being only eight years old when he died wasn’t easy, because it robbed me of so many memories I’d never have the opportunity to make. I do have some fuzzy ones in which we were all seated at my grandmother’s huge ornate walnut dining table, with her and my mom and my aunts bringing in huge plates of food, and my grandfather bowing his head and saying his quick “grace” before we all dug in to eat. But they’re that…fuzzy.
I have much better memories of those later family holiday dinners at my mother’s house. The food was wonderful, but it wasn’t picture perfect, nor served in all matching china. And we weren’t all dressed up in our best clothes. We were comfortable, in our casual clothes, and my mom and my aunts were all still wearing their aprons when we sat down to eat. We “toasted” with iced tea and soda, while my two uncles grabbed food from the plates that were passed around, with Uncle Jay dropping almost as much on the floor as went on his plate (and since he was usually the only one wearing a tie, you can imagine food went on that, too!)! The television was on in the next room, and everyone was talking at the same time. And as soon as we kids finished eating, we got up and either played games, argued good-naturedly with each other, or watched a movie on tv.
Those days were fun. We enjoyed being together, and never even thought about not being the “perfect” picture postcard family gathering. We were Just Plain Family.
As the years went by, things changed, as they always do. Children grew up and had children of their own, and holiday dinners weren’t the same, because my aunts and uncles now spent holidays with their grown children and THEIR children. The big family dinners continued for a while, just not at holidays. My husband and I continued Thanksgiving traditions at my mother’s as long as possible, and usually with my aunt and her grown children.
As the years fast forward, holidays become increasingly difficult because our special loved ones are living now only in our memories, and not seated at the table with us. Those memories of Thanksgivings past can sometimes hurt more than they can make us smile. In my dreams I imagine the ones who are already there getting together in heaven to still share a very special Thanksgiving dinner, probably in my mother’s heavenly mansion. With Uncle Jay still spilling food on his tie! And waiting for us to join them.
I know I’m not alone in feeling this way. I know many friends going through similar feelings. It’s normal, and it’s a part of life. We’re expected to automatically be happy because it’s the start of the holiday season. Many of us are almost forced to hide our feelings behind smiles that we make ourselves wear, because we think we’re the only ones feeling this way. But there are more out there than you know.
The next time you start feeling like that, don’t be embarrassed. If you’re having a tough time, you’re not the only one. If you’re hurting, you’re hurting. And it’s OK to feel that way. Call a close friend and talk about it. If you know someone who’s hurting, call them and welcome them into your home. You never know how significant a small gesture can be to someone this time of year. Nor do you know what new memories will be made.