“Nothing is more honorable than a grateful heart.” (Seneca)
I used to hate Thanksgiving.
My hostility towards the holiday began in 2004 – during my freshman year of college. At DePaul, we were on a quarter system, so our winter break spanned from Thanksgiving through the New Year.
I had just finished my final exams and was packing up my dorm room for the trip back to Texas, and a welcome reprieve from the Chicago weather. As I was loading my suitcase, the phone rang. I had custom ringtones set for everyone, and instantly recognized John Mayer’s soothing voice singing, Fathers be good to your daughters…
“Hi Dad, what time is my flight tomorrow?”
He told me there had been a change of plans. I needed to stay in Chicago.
Uncle Tom had passed away, and the rest of the family was flying up here for the funeral the next day.
Tom was my father’s baby brother– my Godfather.
Uncle Tom had been single for as long as I had known him, and lived most of his life with my grandparents. His bachelor status would put him at the kids table for any family gathering, and he was completely fine with this. Because he didn’t have kids of his own, he was more like an extension of our immediate family, joining us for family vacations and present for every important milestone. He had been my Confirmation sponsor and during the mass when he walked me down the aisle to the priest, he was so nervous, you’d have thought it was my wedding day.
He finally met the love of his life in his 40’s– a single mother whose son worshipped the ground Uncle Tom walked on, and I’d never seen him so happy. Since he lived in Chicago while I was going to school there, I got to spend more time with them. He took me out to dinner at Phoenix Restaurant in Norridge, and told me he thought he was ready to get married.
Their wedding was in Seattle, the summer after I graduated high school. It was one of the happiest times of our family’s life, and the last event where we were all together. They were married less than 6 months before he had a fatal heart attack on November 23, 2004– 11 years ago to the day.
That year, Thanksgiving came and went– we were too busy planning his wake and memorial service to bother with anything else. The following Thanksgiving, I stayed in Chicago with my grandparents– they were in such grief that it seemed more important to be with them than fly home.
By the time Holden and I got married, I’d also lost my Godmother and both sets of grandparents. Thanksgivings with our family were small and quiet- thankful for each other and our blessings, but still aching for those missing at the table. I was grateful for my new in-laws and extended family, but I couldn’t help feeling sad that Holden never got to experience a Thanksgiving with my whole family.
Two years ago, I spent Thanksgiving in Korea with my birth family. It was an emotional rollercoaster, and I definitely felt blessed. However, it definitely wasn’t a traditional celebration. Last year, I was devastated during Thanksgiving because I had just found out that my biological sister had canceled her plans to visit for the holidays at the last minute. (Darn Ebola scare)
I thought perhaps I wasn’t meant to be particularly happy at Thanksgiving, and maybe that was okay. Maybe the holiday is more for reflection, and finding grace in gratitude.
But this year, Thanksgiving snuck up on me. I hadn’t fully processed that it was November, let alone Thanksgiving time. I was too busy with my amazing new dream job, spending time with my husband and our dear friends, preparing for my sister’s visit from Korea next month, and generally loving life.
For the first time since the Thanksgiving of 2004, my heart feels full. On Wednesday, we’ll be driving up to Kansas to spend Thanksgiving Day with Holden’s mom’s side of the family. When we get back, we’ve got dinner planned with my parents and Holden’s dad and stepmom. In addition to getting to celebrate with all three sides of the family, we hosted a Friendsgiving dinner for the first time this weekend.
I’ve said a few times in previous posts how blessed I am to have found friends who have become family. We recently finished setting up our dining room, and were anxious to enjoy it with company. When the topic of Friendsgiving came up (and Sevi offered to cook the Turkey), I knew it was going to be an extra special year.
Complementing Sevi’s delicious turkey, we had quite a feast courtesy of my talented friends Valery, Jordan, Jaclyn, and Rachel, who made the most scrumptious side dishes. I’m so grateful to have found a group of girlfriends where our husbands get along just as much as we do! It was the best kind of evening, full of laughter and cheer– one I will always cherish as the very first meal in our dining room.
I’m not sure if I’m completely over my Thanksgiving blues– It’s safe to say I’ve gone from hating it to “it’s complicated” — but I will go on record as saying that FRIENDSgiving is my new official favorite holiday.
I may be going a bit M.I.A. during the next month or so, as I prepare for my sister’s visit and other holiday plans. In case I don’t get another chance to say it before Thanksgiving, THANK YOU — for reading this blog and my ramblings, for supporting and inspiring me, and for making me feel so grateful.