As my family gathers around once more for Thanksgiving, there is one person missing that everyone’s trying not to talk about… yet I know they’re all thinking about. Or at least I know I am.

This is our first holiday without my grandma, and truly, this holiday was hers more than anyone’s. She made the pumpkin pies, she presided over the table at dinner as the matriarch of the clan, she dried the family silver and put it back in its box after dinner. She loved this holiday, and it loved her.

So we’re all struggling not to be too sad, and honoring her in myriad little ways while still enjoying our time together. Tonight my teenage cousin went over to her house and made the cookies that they always made together, and my uncle is taking over pumpkin pie duty tomorrow. Life goes on, which I think would have been a great relief to her. Strong emotion of any kind always made her highly uncomfortable, and she would’ve been mortified to know that anyone was in the slightest way put out by her death.

For me, it really hit home tonight when I was setting the table for our pre-turkey day rehearsal barbeque. I knew I had the right number of place settings, but when it came time to put out the napkins with their proprietary rings, I couldn’t for the life of me think of who the last person was. It seemed there was an extra place, someone missing, and I couldn’t help but think that it should’ve been for my grandma. Of course it turned out that I hadn’t counted that same teenage cousin, as he is too old to think of as a kid and too young to make it as an adult just yet (although he’s certainly tall enough, following in another proud family tradition). But I still couldn’t shake the feeling that I had set an extra place at the table on purpose.

It is strange not to see her slowly making her way to her customary spot at the dinner table, overseeing all kitchen operations from there. It’s also hard not to have our afternoon interrupted by her going to “rest her back,” aka the kids are driving her crazy and she needs a time out. I miss her, and tomorrow is going to be difficult in a lot of unexpected little ways.

But somehow it’s alright at the same time, just as it was on my wedding day. She is gone, but as long as I can be with people who all share the same wonderful memories of her, somehow a little piece of her will still be with us. By honoring her life and carrying on with our own, we are able to make both ourselves and each other feel a little bit better about that glaring hole at the end of the table.

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