Alone for the Holidays


Americans plan Thanksgiving gatherings despite health official warnings (NBC via Yahoo! News)

One of the smaller details I remember from the day Mom passed away is that I’d actually bought a ticket to a Halloween party that one of my friends was putting on that evening. I’d had misgivings about that party before I’d even bought a ticket, even though I was sure that if Mom had been able to articulate anything at that point, she would have encouraged me to go. I’d basically gone a good two or three years without attending any big social gatherings, and I’d gotten to a point where I kind of needed to cut loose. Needless to say, those plans were jettisoned when I got the word early that afternoon of Mom’s passing, and now I don’t know if I’ll ever go to another Halloween party, even though those are the parties where I’ve always felt the most comfortable.

Going through November and December without Mom’s physical presence in the house was beyond painful. Even when we were going through difficult times, my parents always made those months special for us. After I went vegetarian in 1993, Mom still made sure I had plenty to eat, and even started using vegetarian meat substitutes (once those were available in Toledo) to make me my own versions of the holiday dishes she cooked. (One of my biggest regrets is never getting her meatball recipe, since that was a huge holiday staple for us, and I know she didn’t get her recipe from her old cookbooks.) Even if we all had our misgivings about the trappings of the holiday season, it was important for us to mark those days in our own ways.

As Thanksgiving approached in the weeks after Mom’s passing, dealing with all the messages of holiday togetherness in mass media was just too much for me to handle. (I was already watching less television news than usual at that point, but I had to turn the dial down even further once the holiday commercial season started.) November turned into December, and so many of the rituals I’d taken for granted just didn’t happen there, and I certainly wasn’t going to mark them on my own because I knew that trying to do those things without Mom physically there would just make me even sadder. Trying to get through the holidays might not have been the hardest part of those first two months after Mom’s passing, but it was right up there.

I got to spend the following Thanksgiving with the family of a work colleague, but then I moved to Colorado a couple of weeks later. I don’t think I could have done anything to mark the remainder of the holidays at that point, just because I was in so much shock from having pulled that move off (and adjusting to life in a brand new state), but I certainly wasn’t in the mood to appreciate any of the holiday trappings; I had a new life to launch there, and even when I wasn’t in a position to deal with that work, I pretty much had to recharge my batteries at every available opportunity to help me keep my head on straight. By the time Thanksgiving rolled around again, I’d been living on my own in Wisconsin for a couple of months, and I was still trying to figure out how that had happened. Heck, I’m still not entirely sure of that today.

I’ve had friends from Toledo send me things for the holidays here, and my new colleagues have offered me spaces at their dinner tables, but I’ve kind of been keeping to myself these past couple of holiday seasons. It’s not that trying to celebrate the holidays now would necessarily be painful for me, or not feel right, but I just don’t have any real interest. If nothing else, I’ve been keeping busy here with the work I’ve been doing on various projects, and having days free of the usual quotidian trappings help me spike my productivity a little. Especially with as deep as I am into researching my next book right now, getting a few extra hours for reading and note-taking over the next few weeks is something I can genuinely look forward to.

Even with this part of the country being in the absolute worst hotspot of the current COVID-19 spike, about half the people I saw while I was grocery shopping yesterday weren’t wearing masks, which only confirmed my desire to do all my grocery shopping for the rest of the calendar year then and there, avoiding the holiday crush on top of viruses; at this point, I may start paying colleagues of mine to deliver groceries to me, since we don’t have any kind of grocery delivery service out here. I can only assume that a lot of Thanksgiving parties are going to go on around these parts like the pandemic doesn’t even exist, while I shelter in place with all my books and my freshly-restocked refrigerator, and I think I’ll be better off for that.

I want to tell people that it’s possible to get through the holidays without the get-togethers and dinners and all that, but even if I thought people might listen to me, anger has been spiking around here along with the COVID-19 diagnoses, so it’s probably better for me to just type up this blog and be done with the whole topic. As much as I miss marking the holidays with Mom, I’ve got an opportunity over the next few weeks to press ahead on a lot of the work I’ve been trying to get done lately. It’s not exactly cause for “celebration,” but just like that Halloween party four years ago, I think that if Mom were physically here and thinking about the pandemic along with me, she’d advise me to just keep sheltering in place and worry about holiday traditions some other time. At least I’ll have that to help me get through the end of the year here.

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