The Holiday season keeps drawing closer and while I am busy preparing myself for our travel back to California, I have heart flutters when I think about spending the first Thanksgiving with my Dad’s side of the family in over 5 years. I am excited to see everyone again and share in countless stories from childhood or recent tails, but what lingers in the back of my mind is the white elephant that will set up shop in every home I visit.
No matter where I go, if the people in attendance know my story and the fact I am a widow and mother of two children, there is a sense of awkwardness until the tension melts. Usually this happens when I put on a smiling face and can joke around and be playful but until that point it is almost like people walk on eggshells around me. I get it, I truly do. Everyone is afraid to say something that might elicit strong emotions and I am sure no one wants to be the first to make me cry. What I have to remind people is that despite the tears rolling down my face, they are not the ones causing the tears, my emotions belong to me and how I react is mine alone.
With that said, at my family’s Thanksgiving gathering it is a tradition to go around the table and speak about what we are thankful for. What started off as a straightforward, gratitude list type speech quickly over the years turned into a sob-fest where we are all able to dig deeper and speak more from the heart. I am sure this may cause some people to cringe at the idea of pouring out your heart while a delicious plate of Thanksgiving dinner grows colder, but when many of our lives are going in different directions, it is a point in time where we are all on the same page at the same time.
I already anticipate going through a whole box of tissues on myself alone, since this will be the first Thanksgiving without Matt and the first Thanksgiving I will be having with my family in years. I can guarantee there will not be a dry eye in the house. I do though, have moments of trepidation. I can’t help but wonder what type of focus will be paid to the empty seat beside me, the one that is meant to be filled by Matthew. I know my family loves and supports me in any way I need. I know that having myself and the children there will create a strong sense of unity among us all, but I know that no amount of preparation will grant me safe passage through the day.
I know there is no use wondering what the day will bring because it will only cause unwanted anxiety, but I have moments where I would rather hibernate during the holidays to spare my heart any more pain. But what good would that serve? Since I am not a bear… my heart will carry a heavy load until February. Constant reminders that Matt is gone will come one right after the other; between Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, Matt’s birthday then Kaden’s birthday, I am in for a long run of face slapping. I am not sure I will be recognisable come February.
But as the saying goes, “One day at a time.” That is all I can do. I can worry myself sick if I choose or I can take a deep breath and tell myself, “focus on the now.” I think about the smiles on my kids faces when they see their other grandparents and all their aunts and uncles, cousins and friends back in California. I think about how I am braving a plane ride, solo, with two kids, one of which is in her prime terrible two stage and how no matter the outcome on the other side I will have family waiting with open arms and big hugs. Isn’t that what this is all about? Embracing family and spreading love and joy. I know I will survive, I have survived much worse. I will come out of the days ahead stronger and more resilient. It won’t be pretty, I can testify to that truth and that is ok. The pain I endure is only creating more space for me to love deeper and stronger.
Matthew will be there with me every step of the way, he has been thus far and there is no end in sight. So please remember this, when you are stressed about getting the turkey just right, or finding the best present for a loved one, stop and think about what the meaning of this time of year truly means. The holidays have nothing to do with the table settings, it has nothing to do with the boxes perfectly wrapped under the tree. This time of the year has everything to do with the ones you surround yourself with, your spouse, parents, siblings, extended family. Trust me, when a loved one is no longer present at your table their aura will be missed. So love them now and love them forever. Embrace, laugh, smile and truly and whole heartily enjoy this time of year for everything that money can’t buy.