Without a doubt, fall and winter are my favorite seasons. Even as a child, I was not a fan of summer and I was even less of a fan of spring. I have reasons for my preferences–summer always brought heat and humidity and long days that dragged on even longer after July 4th. Spring only brought mud and a dampness that permeated my body. Fall, on the other hand, brought a welcomed relief from the heat of summer along with beautiful scenery–especially where I grew up in Western New York. Winter brought lake effect snows that would completely blanket everything (often entire cars) and allow for a reason to crank the fire in the woodstove and have some hot chocolate.
Not much has changed in those regards; except, I don’t live in Western New York anymore. Minnesota autumns are beautiful, but winters here aren’t quite as snowy as where I grew up. Here, temperatures are much colder and precipitation is less. I’m okay with that for the most part. I love going for walks when the temperature is below zero. There’s something so comforting about coming out of the cold and into a warm house. In the summer, I come into a cold house out of the heat, but it isn’t comforting. It’s more of a relief.
Autumn also brings with it my favorite holiday–Thanksgiving. I won’t bore anyone with the traditions that accompany my family’s Thanksgiving day. They are treasured by us and thinking on them brings happy memories. Thanksgiving has always been about family. Most everyone I know has family they gather with on that day. This is where my heart starts to hurt some.
You see, I used to be one of those people. Our family would all gather at my parents’ house for a wonderful dinner prepared by my mom (always just my mom–no one else was allowed to bring anything). There would be football on and Christmas music would play at some point as well. The kids would gather and play games downstairs or outside if weather allowed. The house was packed and my parents wouldn’t have had it any other way. Neither would I.
But now it isn’t that way. Not only do we not all live close by each other anymore, other things have changed as well. My dad is no longer living. My mom lives in a tiny senior apartment, I have left Western New York. And half of my siblings hate me. It’s that last one that gets me every October as Thanksgiving gets closer.
It is complicated, private and very painful, but it is reality. I am the only child of my parents out of four of us who is hated. Years of lies and betrayal and sticking up for my own family cost me those relationships. I don’t regret the way I handled the wrongs done against me. In a perfect world, those guilty would have admitted their transgressions, forgiveness would have taken place and relationships would have been restored.
We don’t live in a perfect world.
I am not bitter. I am not angry. I am not out for vengeance. I know that belongs to God alone and I am confident that someday, those who are in the wrong will have to answer for the things they did and said.
What I am is a little sad. I’m sad that my kids have spent the majority of their lives not knowing their aunts, uncles and cousins.
I am sad knowing that the guilty parties often punish my elderly mom because she has stuck by me. (Okay, maybe I’m angry about that one)
I’m sad thinking about all the years we spent as a family and the memories that flood me this time of year knowing that, barring a miracle, that opportunity won’t arise again.
This year that pain will be just a bit greater as two, yes TWO, of my own kids will not be making the trip home for Thanksgiving. I understand they have lives of their own now, but oh, how empty our table will seem without everyone gathered around it.
I try to be happy for those who talk of happy times with family, who write about packing to make the trip to grandma’s and grandpa’s, who post pictures of cousins smiling and laughing as everyone is gathered around a table of food. I wonder how many people realize that food isn’t the only blessing on that day? Relationships with people who are supposed to love you are a blessing often taken for granted. It wouldn’t even be as bad if the only reason I didn’t gather with my family was because I moved away and couldn’t make the trip home. I know that is not the case though. If I did make the trip home, my mom would be the only one to be thankful I was there. That is how it has to be right now. I have accepted that.
But acceptance doesn’t mean the hurt has completely disappeared.
Or the sadness.
Or the longing for how things were and should still be.
People say, “Well, friends can be family.” I know they mean well. We have some wonderful friends in our lives and I thank God for them. And maybe I could begin to feel that good friends can substitute for family if distance was the only reason things are as they are.
But that is not the case.
I know that Thanksgiving will be a wonderful time spent with those who will be here. I know that my daughter will have a wonderful day with her fiancé and his family. I know my son will enjoy his day with his girlfriend and her family. And I know that life goes on and change is inevitable.
I also know that God sees my heart and my hurt. He hasn’t abandoned me, and even though this is a season of mixed emotions for me, I will be thankful to Him for all He has blessed me with.