When Your Holiday Has a Hole

Thanksgiving was my mother-in-law’s holiday.

I only remember one Thanksgiving in my husband’s and my 16-year marriage that we didn’t spend with Judy in the kitchen. She was a whiz with the menu. She made accommodating all the the gluten-free, dairy-free, Paleo and vegan dietary restrictions of our extended family look effortless. Nothing but selfless love, that woman. She loved this holiday, she loved having her family together, she loved good food, and we loved her.

Last November, she and my father-in-law flew out to Cape Cod to spend Thanksgiving with us during our year of nomadic living. We visited Plimoth Plantation and the Mayflower replica. We did the Boston Tea Party tour. She and I visited Louisa May Alcott’s Orchard House together.

None of us had a clue that the back pain and indigestion she casually mentioned during that trip meant that her body was riddled with tumors. She received the pancreatic cancer diagnosis three months later. Two months after that, she was gone.

It was a huge shock and a huge loss for our family. Seven months later, we’ve gone through our grieving for the most part, but this will be our first Thanksgiving without Judy.

And I’m feeling it, big time. I keep finding myself welling up at random times leading up to this week. In fact, I may have cried more in the past month than I did during the two months between her diagnosis and death. Thanksgiving. Her absence gets heavier as the day gets closer.

Honestly, most of our days feel like they did when we were living far away from my in-laws. I can pretend she’s over in Chicago printing t-shirts in their screenprinting shop if I want to. Obviously, I know she’s not there if I think about it, but it’s not like there’s a constant reminder that she’s gone.

But this week. . . that hole is right in front of us. And we have no choice but to stand over it and stare into it together, even as we give thanks for our countless blessings.

I know we’re not alone in this. I know there are many, many others out there who are approaching the holidays with holes in their hearts. And I know that there’s a lesson to be learned from this experience.

Be here in the moment with your loved ones. Let go of any petty arguments and bruised egos that might be lingering, and simply delight in one another’s presence. It’s not always possible to be together, but when it is, make the most of it. Take conscious moments to soak it in. We truly don’t know how much time we have. But we do have Now. 

We had so many wonderful “Nows” with Judy over the years. Those memories make this Thanksgiving hard, but beautifully so. I’m not sorry for the pain those memories cause in her absence—I’m thankful.

Those holes are the price we pay for loving, and it’s worth it.  Holes left by loved ones aren’t empty—they’re filled with love. And love is holy.

A holey holiday is a holy holiday, friends. And that’s truly something to be thankful for.

Blessings to you and your loved ones, holes and all, this holiday season.


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Annie writes about life, motherhood, world issues, beautiful places, and anything else that tickles her brain. On good days, she enjoys juggling life with her husband and homeschooling her children. On bad days, she binges on chocolate chips and dreams of traveling the world alone.

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