Thanksgiving Will Look Different This Year

Last fall was a really difficult time in my life. My sweet grandmother passed away and my ex-husband’s alcoholism spun out of control. I was working two jobs and parenting my young, sad children... and really just robot-ing along day by day.

The holidays are supposed to be a time of joy and celebration. But, the harsh truth is that isn’t always the case. Sometimes, holidays are grief-stricken and difficult. That was certainly the case for me last Thanksgiving.

Cherished time together

My Grandma Margie used to drive all the way from Florida to the Midwest to celebrate Thanksgiving with us. She’d stay for most of November and it was always incredibly soul-filling to spend quality time with her. She taught me how to bake her beloved pumpkin pie, homemade turkey stuffing, split pea soup, and fresh pasta sauce and meatballs.

The older we both got, the more I cherished this time with her. It’s always heartbreakingly difficult to look across the Thanksgiving table to the empty chair where she used to sit next to my mom every year.

Three empty chairs around the Thanksgiving table

Last year my ex-husband, who has since passed away, was also missing from our Thanksgiving table. He was in a rehabilitation facility up north instead. Two empty chairs. Three, if you count my dad who moved halfway across the world to chase his dreams. Though his absence is not as devastating as death, the empty chair still remains at the table.

Continuing traditions

Three empty chairs... a lot of sadness and worry. A Happy Thanksgiving? We tried our best. Even though we were all hurting, we still managed to muster up enough strength to cook and eat a delicious meal and gather together with those of us who could make it... choosing to be grateful for who WAS sitting around the table.

My family has a Thanksgiving tradition that anyone who attends our meal signs their name on the fabric tablecloth we place on our dinner table. My mom then stitches fabric over the signatures to make them a permanent reminder of Thanksgivings of the past. This is both a difficult and serene sight to see. A reminder of how fragile life truly is, and how important it is to be thankful for all of our blessings every day, not just while giving thanks on Thanksgiving.

What I’m thankful for

Another Thanksgiving tradition my family has is to go around the table while we eat and proclaim all the things we’re thankful for.

Sigh... sometimes this is hard. Not because I’m not thankful for anything, but because as I get older I’m learning that I’m thankful for a lot of things that also cause pain.

Thankful for the vision I still have

Macular degeneration is one of these things. I’m thankful every single day for the vision I still have. And, I’m thankful for the motivation this diagnosis has given me to truly live life to its fullest. Honestly, I think most people are thankful for their vision, but it isn’t something they realize they need to be thankful for every day. Those of us who are battling the constant doom of possible central vision blindness know not to take our vision for granted.

Life is a journey

Last year I wrote a Thanksgiving article titled Being Thankful Even Through Hard Times where I wrote about struggling to feel thankful and how common that really is. Not everyone’s Thanksgiving table looks the same...they aren’t all visions of Norman Rockwell paintings. It’s so important to reach out to friends and family who may be having a difficult time this holiday season. If you, yourself, are having a difficult time, I’d like to be the one to tell you that this, too, shall pass.

Last year, I didn’t think I’d ever be able to find joy during the holidays again. It’s amazing just how much life can change in one short year. This Thanksgiving, my life is so much different than it was last year. Though the empty chairs around the Thanksgiving table will no doubt still make my heart hurt, there will also be a chair filled with a new important person in my life. For him, I am eternally grateful and forever thankful that the universe conspired to bring us together. Without my struggles in life, I would not have him in my life. This is more than enough reason to be thankful for those hard things.

Life is always evolving

Check on each other, friends. Be there for each other through difficult times. You never know when your life will change. This year, I’m breathing in the amazing and I hope you are too.

If anyone would have told me how much my life would change positively in the last year, I would have retorted with a big, HUGE ‘yeah, right’! I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes:

Life is amazing. And then it’s awful. And then it’s amazing again. And in between the amazing and the awful it’s ordinary and mundane and routine. Breathe in the amazing. Hold on to the awful, and relax and exhale during the ordinary. That’s just living heartbreaking, soul-healing, amazing, awful, ordinary life. And it’s breathtakingly beautiful.

-L.R. Knost

Happy Thanksgiving... I’m thankful for each and every one of you,
Andrea Junge

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