My favorite Thanksgiving stories are by far traditional.
The year our oldest son was born, we decided to stay home for Thanksgiving. My late husband grilled steaks and we devoured them while watching our favorite football team on television. It was the best Thanksgiving.
Fast forward two years later when we celebrated our last Thanksgiving together. After dinner at my sister’s house in Wisconsin, we drove another 100 miles in the fog and rain to watch football. We sat in the cold, our ponchos ripped by the wind. Despite being soaked to the bone and freezing, it was always worth watching the Green Bay Packers together because of the memories we made. It was the best Thanksgiving.
It was our last real memory as a normal family. I had just entered our second trimester with our second child. My late husband was diagnosed with colon cancer exactly one week later.
A year later, I was planning my husband’s funeral the week of Thanksgiving. After a long week of staying close to the hospital and hospice house, our families traveled back home to regroup before the funeral. We celebrated his life together for three whole days following the holiday.
My friends called one another and organized themselves. One by one they showed up from across the state and from across the Atlantic. They changed diapers, fed them, bathed them. They put them to bed and got up every few hours with the baby. But most importantly, they gave my boys all the love in the world.
We emptied wine bottles while they made my favorite foods in an attempt to get me to eat. The day I came home from planning the funeral service, many of them were waiting for me. I still get tears in my eyes and a smile in my heart thinking about my friends who surprised me with visits.
We shared stories and memories of my husband. They allowed me to make crude jokes about being a widow at 33 years old. They were simply there, listening, helping, and on cue, could help me laugh.
These were some of the darkest days of my life, days where I remember so little in the shock of losing my 34-year old husband. Even through all of this pain, this will always be one of the best Thanksgivings. Each friend brought a part of the Thanksgiving meal that awful year. The food was amazing, but the love and friendship on that day is what will always stand out.
Sometimes we simply have to let the holidays happen. It is so easy to get swept up in the hype of “making traditions” with our nuclear families. Sometimes, the best tradition, is simply not having a tradition.
This holiday season, make time not only for your family, but for your friends too. I learned when we started a family that friends would be vital for successful parenting. Our families do not live in the Twin Cities, and we learned early on to reach out and connect with other young families. We kept in contact with our oldest of friends, making it a priority to see them a few times of year.
This holiday season and after, think of those friends. Friends from back home, from college, and those you have met in the last few years. Keep the connections alive with them. These friends will join your family and be your village.
You will be grateful you kept them close to your heart all these years.