Ten years ago, we thought it “cute” to cook our own Thanksgiving meal. We were newlyweds, living on a youth pastor’s salary, rent free in the church parish which happened to have a great kitchen. My husband’s family was just a quick drive away but with everyone in law enforcement at the time, holiday’s were rarely celebrated the day of. Which was a big deal for me because I am a day-of kind of person. I like to celebrate things on the day they were meant to be celebrated, so we decided to celebrate just the two of us. We had never cooked such a large meal before. I remember deciding to crock pot the smallest turkey I could find and after hours of cooking, it simply fell apart. I had to piece it back together with skewers to get a picture of it. We tried to duplicate family recipes, we drank mediocre wine (not knowing any better back then) and we cooked while I wore a vintage apron made by my talented mother-in-law. Sitting at our walmart table I bought back in college next to my favorite stenciled yellow wall, another talent of my mother in-law, we ate and drank, and shared what we were thankful for.
I have been thinking about this moment all week long. I searched for the pictures this morning, my mind already knowing the exact photo: Josh and I standing side by side with our feast laid out before us. This image has been haunting me for a couple days now, knowing that we are entering into yet another holiday with just the two of us. This year is one of many now we have celebrated just the two of us. I know longer find it “cute” to cook our own Thanksgiving meal. This is our reality. Pandemic or no pandemic. Little did we know when we cooked that first meal, it would still be just us a decade later, standing in our kitchen together cooking and drinking (significantly better) wine. Those two people in the photos above had no clue what was in store for them. No clue infertility would rob them of so much. No clue that friends would become closer than family. That we would become our own default for these kinds of celebrations. Not family nor friends. Just us. I never thought I would be in yet another anxiety-stricken, loneliness-spiraling panic, trying anything I can to hold back the tide of sadness days before Thanksgiving. But the tears kept on, relentless in their pursuit to make me feel the emptiness. Even with so much to celebrate: a new job, an awesome marriage, a house we love, friends and family, our pets. The sadness still won.
One thing I have been learning this year is that both things can be true.
I have an amazing marriage and I am so thankful to spend time with my best friend everyday. I also feel lonely, especially during the holidays. I love us. I also mourn it being just us. My husband and I truly love to cook and drink good wine together, but when that is the norm, holiday’s just make the fridge a bit fuller. We have friends and family who love us. We also feel alone and isolated, returning to our default of just us after the crowds of friendly faces scatter. We are loved. We are also alone. I don’t want to admit this reality but it’s when I try to deny it, that is when the panic sets in. This week I have been scouring the internet for places to stay over the holiday. I looked at beach homes and mountain houses. We didn’t have the money to get away but I didn’t care, I would put that shit on the credit card and call it day. I thought about packing up our Thanksgiving meal for two and running as fast as I could, hoping the sadness wouldn’t catch up. I thought, if I could just surround myself with happiness, the loneliness wouldn’t be true. But I couldn’t outrun it’s presence, it caught up quickly and the waves of sadness rolled over me. Day and night, it came with the anticipation of this very day and I finally stopped fighting it. I let it be true. I allowed both the love and the loneliness to be true.
To my surprise, the permission brought a freedom that released me from my panic state. Somehow in my life I learned that sadness isn’t welcome on holidays and so I have spent my energy hanging lights, drinking wine, running to AirBnb’s and putting out flowers to uninvite it’s presence. Only love and happiness are welcome on holidays dammit! Yet in order to do that, I had to imprison a part of myself. A part that needed to be seen just as much as the loved side needs to be seen. So this Thanksgiving, with it being just the two of us once again, I am not going to set a table with as many happy distractions I can think of hoping I can find solace in their presence. Instead, I am going to set just one extra setting and invite the sadness to join us this year. I am not going to fight it with holiday cheer, I am going to allow it to be true. I am going to trust that God will not let me be consumed by it for He has already consumed me. I am going to trust that love wins in the end and one day the sadness will be no longer. Until then, I will give it space at our table, as we drink good wine and share all that we are truly thankful for. I will hold that both are true this year and for many years to come:
I am lonely but I am also deeply loved.
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