I remember when the holidays were loud. Cousins chasing each other, siblings telling stories, parents reminiscing. My dad would aggravate the dogs, which would aggravate everyone else. My brother would show off the latest gadget. He and my husband would go out and shoot the Halloween pumpkins. I hate to bake, so my sister-in-law would make my favorite desserts. The sweet treats helped distract me from my mother’s cutting words and the inevitability that the kids were about to break something in the family room.
Our holidays were never perfect, but they were the way holidays were supposed to be. We were together, and I never cooked alone. Then he died. We didn’t know that Thanksgiving would be the last one, but by Christmas and Easter, we could sense the finality. I was foolish enough to think that when the core of the family left this world, those of us who were left behind would become closer because of our shared pain. Instead, it tore everything apart.
Now here I am, cooking a holiday dinner alone again.
I haven’t seen the cousins play together in almost three years. I don’t know what gadgets are distracting my brother. The pumpkins are rotting in the field. Dessert came from the freezer at Walmart. The cutting words are gone, but the sting remains. And the only thing being broken is my heart.
In the quiet kitchen tonight, I think about all of them. I remember the good years and I wonder if the holidays will be loud again someday when I have grandchildren. I seek God in my loneliness because He is truly the only one who can fill the family-sized hole in my heart.
We do our best, those of us who are cooking alone, to put on a smile for the ones who remain, to hold on to some tradition, and to focus on the memories we can make rather than the ones we must leave behind.