The holiday season is upon us. It’s a time when people traditionally reunite with their loved ones, share the year, and remember the good times. It’s a time of year that I love. Because I love my family.
Earlier this year, we suffered the loss of my cousin. He was nearly three years old when he died. At the time I was travelling abroad and was unable to return to the States. When I got to my room that night I was greeted by the phone alerts that everyone fears when they are not close to home. “You there? Please call now”. Everything else from that night is a blur now.
My family is not very big on my dad’s side. My great grandma, my grandparents, me, my step-mom, my dad, my uncle and aunt and their kids. We’re a tight nit group. I suppose I was the most far flung of the group. I was always out of the state or the country, or living with my mom. But it was never that big of a deal. One thing was for sure – we always came together on Thanksgiving.
For my family, Thanksgiving is the event of the year. We meet as a group, we cook a magnificent amount of artery clogging and delicious food, and we enjoy the company. Our memories every year are sweetened by our many traditions, and often it is one of the few times I get to see everyone together. For the longest time I was the only kid in the group. My dad is the older brother, and my uncle took his sweet time starting his family. It’s a given that kids get spoiled by everyone. I enjoyed my time, and when my cousins came into the picture, I did my best to give them a similar treatment.
I can’t remember a time when Thanksgiving wasn’t impervious to the outside world. I have nothing but fond memories of it. But this year I’ve been having a hard time looking forward to the day. I suppose it goes without saying that I never expected something like this to happen to my family. I guess everyone who loses a young family member says something like that.
This Thanksgiving will be the first without my youngest cousin. It’s hard to think of any other label for it. And because of that, I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately. I’ve been thinking a lot about giving thanks.
Even to me, it seems a little cliche. But for those who are looking at a holiday season that has been forever changed by some tragic event, sometimes it feels like the world has turned inside out, upside down. So I feel comfortable thinking for awhile on something I have heard hundreds of times in my life. Giving thanks for what you have.
After the storm is over and you are left with the new and different world, it is easy to take refuge in the past. Of course, there will be times when it is utterly impossible not to remember. But the more I think about it the more I feel there are two ways to remember.
The first feeds your fear, your sadness. It is to remember from a world that is scarred. To see a hole that cannot be filled. It is the memory of the wounded and confused. I could describe it in a thousand ways and still go on. It fills your chest and weighs you down. This is the way of remembering that comes naturally. But it isn’t the only way.
The second way is the way I’d like to be remembered when I die. Fondly. Even now when I write this I’m tearing up at the memory of my cousin. But not because I’m sick with worry or anger anymore. But because I’m remembering the few times we met in peace. It fills me with a different emotion. The drive to make the world better for kids like him. The empathy for those of you who feel like I do. But most importantly, the concrete knowledge that I am thankful for and to my family.
I don’t expect to have the same kind of thanksgiving that we used to have. I’m sure there will be tears. But suddenly I’m not dreading it. I miss my family and I want to be with them, come hell or high water. We will all feel different. But at the end of the day, we are faced with an unchangeable fact. We can let it drag us down, or we can turn it towards something good. It’s a reminder that will be with me for the rest of my life. And I intend to shape it into a force of good.
I’m not sharing to bring out the tears, or to put a damper on the holiday season. To the contrary. Let me add to the roar of voices already shouting one thing: be thankful for your family, your friends, or those you share your life with. Whatever and whoever they are, remember their strengths and weaknesses, their virtues and their flaws. These are the things your memories are made of. Be thankful you are around to experience and share with them.
And for those of you who are like me; those of you who are facing a new kind of Thanksgiving or a new world, please remember fondly. Don’t regret for the lost. Enjoy for them. Don’t dwell on what could have been. Forge your life into a better one. Improve the lives of those around you. And don’t forget to give thanks for the people you share your time with. Have a happy holiday season!
Thanksgiving and spending time with family tend to be synonymous in our culture. While some look forward to seeing their family, others may get together out of obligation and some may have nowhere to go.
In some homes or restaurants stories, laughter, games, watching sports, giving back to others, or another tradition fill family members with a sense of belonging, comfort and joy. This is certainly the experience so many hope for each year.
Those spending time out of obligation do so for various reasons. Perhaps they have not felt valued in their family and have not had the courage to speak up for themselves. Others may want to avoid the conflict or the emptiness that spending time with family may bring. Some have been unable to envision doing something different for self when the expectation is family is together over Thanksgiving. Certainly, there are many other reasons than those just mentioned.
There are also those who are not going home. Maybe because they do not have one (i.e. they are homeless), their family is gone (e.g., death or live far away), or relationships are broken due to neglect, abuse, and/or addiction.
If you are privileged to belong to a family which looks forward to and enjoys time together, perhaps consider adding someone new to your celebration who does not have a place to land for the holiday. For those who feel obligated, perhaps this is the year to step back and decide what is in your best interest. Perhaps considering what needs to change so you either have a voice and make sure you are heard or choose to have a different experience over the holiday (e.g., serving at a foodbank, asking to join another family, or spending time with those less fortunate or alone). Those with no family may consider the previous and/or work to develop a new family experience with those they love. There are many more choices than those just mentioned, including just spending the day relaxing on your own.
No matter what you choose for your holiday experience, like our young writer expressed in “Giving Thanks,” remember to take notice of what you are grateful for this time of year. When it includes others, make a point to share with them what you appreciate.
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