Grief is Grief, Holiday Madness

The Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad Turkey Day

. . . or not. The thankfulness menu is up to you.

Image by iStock

COVID is taking a big bite out of Thanksgiving this year. With cases surging across the country, even the turkeys are rethinking where to go. Trying to adhere to medical experts about how to handle Thanksgiving may not be easy but then, what is? Deciding to ditch a family holiday isn’t the most appetizing but it’s the most practical and loving in a time of pandemic. With facts spread on the table,  my family peeps decided to celebrate within our own nest of people, those we live with all year long. Good plan. Of course, for me, and others widowed or single, a family bubble is a pod of one. I’m not saying suddenly-solo life is desperately lonely or stark, at least when you become used to it – or resigned, as the case may be. But, at times like these, when ‘who you co-habit with’ dictates your holiday place settings, it’s definitely a lot less inviting. (On the bright side,  there are a lot less dishes to wash.)

Having become a sudden widow 5 years ago, I’m not a stranger to ‘home alone’. It was a gradual trip from shock and sadness to the ‘it is what it is’ mode today. Reluctantly, I became nearly comfortable in my very altered nest. Then the pandemic hit. Then, along with the rest of the world, everything became a giant fruit basket upset; a shitstorm of confusing resets and restarts. For those who felt the crushing loss of loved ones from COVID this year, it was a one-two punch. Alloted no traditional grieving time to adapt or adjust to a world beset by death and fear, those left behind sit where thanks and hope are hard to find.

Time, however, if not a healer, does allow us to adapt. It paves the twisted walk through the most traumatic of life experiences. But it offers no instruction book on how to battle an invisible, voracious predator. We bumbled through rules and remedies, written, rescinded and re-written every day. We saw medicine and politics clash in spectacularly wanting ways. People became deathly sick and many, many families saw loved ones leave, who never came back. With more than a quarter million people dead from this epidemic, families will have a glaringly empty holiday chair that we, who’ve lost our own loved ones, know too well.

“Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.” Mary Oliver

2020 was a wildfire (yep, we had them, too) and holidays didn’t fare well at all. Easter passed us by; ditto Mother’s Day. Thanksgiving, and most likely Christmas/Hanukkah, will join the year’s hit parade of ‘things that didn’t go as planned’ – or at all. The famous Norman Rockwell painting of family gathered around the big roasted bird isn’t on the menu this year. For most, this is a one-off holiday. Some feel secure that holidays will soon be returned intact, as normal as the proverbial apple pie. To others, those whose lives have been eternally altered, this year begins one of endless ‘new normals’ where things may never look the same.

The deadly losses this year makes ol’ Turkey Day seem like a nothing burger. Those desperately missing their ‘person’ wouldn’t question or argue what guidelines they need to obey to keep their loved one alive and safe. Remembering not being able to see or say goodbye to someone who might have been their world, would give world to save them. So here’s a thought: stuff the self-pity and pass the gratitude. If your family bubble comprises 2, 4 or 7, be thankful even with a nixed holiday invite list, you still have someone to talk to, laugh with and share the damn pumpkin pie, every day. This Turkey Day an anomaly but if we continue to test the limits, it maybe become the norm. Our choices matter.

Far to often, history repeats itself because we refuse to learn from it. In 1918 Spanish flu felled 675,000 people, with the largest number of fatalities arriving as a fall/winter second wave because, like now, too many mocked its existence and refused to wear masks. We all know how that worked out. Today, we are all on the COVID roller coaster, riding the ups and downs of color coded risk, mandates and restrictions. Sure, we can refuse to strap in for the ride – but at what cost? Indifference? Denial? Resignation? We’re all tired. I get it. But if we forget the endgame and insist on doing our own thing, remember this. It’s always all fun and games until someone gets hurt – or gets a positive test reading. Ultimately, risks become casualties that hit close to home — maybe even yours.

“The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly.” F. Scott Fitzgerald

Humans are hardwired for touch. Lack of it is the most difficult thing about living solo. This pandemic, by reason of logistics and safety, limited the act of touch and intimate contact to those within your ‘live-in bubble’. That really sucks for those living solo, whose lifeline for touch comes from friends, and family (especially grands!). It breaks me when two of my younger grandboys, who have a thing for sleepovers at my house, ask constantly when they’ll happen again. One insisted to his teacher that I would need him to sleep over since it takes two days to help decorate my tree. (he’s not wrong about that part) Every time I look at their sweet, masked little faces, I wonder how much they will remember about this ‘terrible, horrible, very bad’ year in their young lives.

The idea of dining al fresco, in a down coat with frozen feet, isn’t that appealing. Luckily, two kidlets who live nearby (God bless daughters!) will drop off delish doggie bags. My plan is to watch a few way-too-saccharine, over-decorated Hallmark holiday movies, and nosh on a turkey, cranberry sammy. (If I’m completely honest, having grown up in an Italian family, where lasagna took equal stage with the bird, turkey was never my favorite.)

Still, a ‘home alone’ Thanksgiving is hardly the worst case scenario – not even close. So fire up your imagination these bubble bound holidays. Pour a glass of wine and share with friends on Zoom. Sleep late. Check on others you know will be spending the holiday alone – or drop off a treat on their doorstep. Take a hike, no really. Read that book, binge on Netflix. And for the love of God, pass on all the weirdly happy, happy Facebook family pictures. You don’t need that kind of stress in your pandemic life.

Thanksgiving is a day for gratitude, and no matter how it seems this very weird year, we have much to be thankful for. A holiday, no matter how perfectly perceived, is just that — a day. Giving up being together this one year, this one day, allows us to be together next year. If I had a choice, I’d reclaim my time with my husband a thousand time over, than worrying about eating alone or wearing a mask in a pandemic. So, for all who’ve taken that solitary walk through loss of a spouse, a child, sibling or parent, whether in the past — or this past epidemic year, we will get through this. For all who are suffering this Thanksgiving without a job, food, or hope, we will get through this. For all who are alone because you are the exhausted, dedicated, selfless healers on the front lines, thank you and we will get through this.       

I promise.


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