My Holiday Wills and Wont’s

Skip the turkey—load up on mashed potatoes. That’s my plan this year.

That’s my plan because I don’t actually like turkey that much.

That’s my plan because I do really like mashed potatoes.

That’s my plan because my late husband felt the same way, and he always wanted to skip on the turkey and load up on mashed potatoes instead, but he didn’t because that was unconventional.

And now he’ll never get the chance to do that. Now he’ll never have the chance at his perfect Thanksgiving plate- one that skips the protein, and frankly all redeeming health factors of this meal, and instead greatly loads up on carbs and calories.

So I will. This may be unconventional, but I’ve also lived a pretty dang conventional life thus far and still ended up widowed by 25, so we’re going to shift gears a bit.

This holiday season looks a little different for me.

It’s weird to say that, because, really, the holidays have looked a little different to me every year since I was 18. That kind of happens when you stop being a kid. When I was a kid it was the same every year. We buckled down into our conventional little family, and we made traditions, and life afforded us the structured ability to stick with it. Turkey, the Iron Bowl, Christmas Eve candlelight church service, pancake breakfast after tearing into presents—these were nonnegotiable, and we never really wanted them to be.

Then I grew up, and I met a boy, and I blended into another family, one that lived 10 hours away from my family, and so we took turns, and we really made this thing work. Some years, Andrew molded into my family traditions, and some years I molded into his family traditions—which one year, did, unfortunately, included a Thanksgiving 5k, but it’s fine… we walked… I’m not bitter… promise.

And then life struck in other ways too, unconventional ways. We had holidays tucked into the middle of chemotherapy and radiation weeks. We had a Thanksgiving that popped up closely after a pretty gnarly surgery. We had a Christmas spent on a pediatric oncology floor after a really cruel reaction to a new immunotherapy.

Life with cancer tends to be unconventional. Life tends to be unconventional.

But this year he isn’t here… and that makes it the most unconventional of them all, because the one thing that is supposed to always rein true over the holidays is the fact that you spend them with your people. The traditions, the meals, they are all focused on one true goal, and that is to be with those you love.

My person isn’t here, and that is absolutely the worst case of unconventionality I can imagine… so you better believe I’m not eating that dang turkey… not even the slightly less bland dark pieces.

There are a lot of things I have decided that I won’t do this season. I’m actually pretty juvenile about it. Grief may have reverted my personality back twenty-two years (she writes as she slurps her cereal with her childhood Grinch spoon that, much to her dismay, doesn’t even change colors anymore.)

There are a lot of things that I don’t want to do this season, so honestly, I won’t. It’s my heart, my grief, and my decisions to make on how to proceed with both.

 But there are also still a lot of things that I do want to do this season, and I have no intentions of denying myself of those.

I recognize that my family is not the only family hurting this season. You may not have an Andrew-sized hole in your heart like we do, but a lot of you have your own *insert beloved name here* hole this season and that hurts. Human hearts are simply not supposed to have holes, but then life happens and they do, and somehow they keep pumping, so we do too, but not without pain.  

So this is my game plan for the season, these are my three-year old temper tantrums that I hope I can tie together with a nice mature 26-year-old bow.

I hope that in some way, this can give you, my beautiful, broken, shattered kindred souls, permission to live this holiday however you actually need to, not just how people think you should.

  1. I WON’T avoid the empty chair, whether it is physically empty, or just figuratively. I plan to recognize that his presence is missing, and I intend to feel that void. I HAVE to feel that void. I won’t pretend that the table isn’t terribly lacking in his witty humor and sharp jokes, and I won’t pretend that his missing presence is in any way conventional, normal, organic, or something I can understand.
  2. I WILL cry if I want to. It may be a cute little widow’s tear, or it may be a sloppy, mascara in the yams kind of disaster.  My husband is dead, and if that makes you uncomfortable… then quite frankly, you can make your way to the kitchen and shove my helping of the turkey right up…
  3. I WON’T Apologize for telling someone to shove turkey up their butt…
  4. I WILL say his name, and I will ask that anyone around me please do the same. I want to hear his stories, even the ones I lived, even the ones I’ve heard a thousand times, and I want to hear at least one of his many endearing names over and over again as these stories are told.
  5. I WON’T hang his stocking this year. I’m all for feeling the pain that I have to feel, but I also recognize that for me, the sweet replica of his childhood stocking hanging from my bookshelf turned makeshift fireplace will bring a constant ache that I am not quite ready for. So this year, I will hang and stuff my pets’ stockings with every organic human-food looking pet treat I can find (because that concept is hilarious), but I won’t hang his stocking. I won’t spend an entire season staring into unfathomable pain if I don’t have to.
  6. I WILL double fist coffee and mimosas as my family opens presents… because life can take a lot from me, but never that simple pleasure.
  7. I WON’T drive all over Timbucktu by myself to appease anyone.
  8. I WILL participate in all of the holiday events that fill my soul, even the ones we once did together. I will walk through Christmas at the Zoo alone if I have to—I am simply not interested in denying myself even an inch of joy this season.
  9. I WON’T eat turkey.
  10. I WILL Load up on mashed potatoes.

This season I know that I am thankful, but I am sad. I am incredibly supported, but I am also lonely. I am filled to the brim with love, but I also have a cup inside of me that only he can fill and that cup drains a little more every single day that I go without hearing his laugh. So I won’t tie this season up with a bow. I will just live it.

This season is beautiful and painful—and I intend to experience it all, just on my own terms.


5 thoughts on “My Holiday Wills and Wont’s

  1. Well said!! I also lost the man I was to marry when I was 26 it changed me for the better I believe looking back now that I’m approaching 60 and live alone with my dog! I still have the songs he wrote
    And read them sometimes he will always be with me!

  2. Glad you decided to eat mashed potatoes … and don’t forget pumpkin pie or pecan pie or something extra special and sweet like you. Prayers for your continued strength and faith in God. Happy Thanksgiving… Andrew will always be a part of you!💗

  3. You are incredible- and an incredible writer. I feel like your blog needs to be made into a movie or book because it’s just that beautiful.

    Take care friend ❤️ You’re in my thoughts and prayers.

  4. Love you, Alycia. I will be saying his name this holiday season and will be praying for you. Will be listening to “At the Table” by Josh Garrels and thinking of you both today.

  5. Praying for you and your family. I know your dad pretty well and he always told me how proud and moved he was by your faith and spirit. I will continue to pray for you and your family.

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