An absence of choice

Hey Mom. It’s Thanksgiving. I know this holiday was one of your favorites, maybe not quite Christmas Eve level, but up there given your love of cooking. There is also the fact that in your marriage years to dad, it was one of the holidays that required the in-laws to do the 7-hour drive to celebrate instead of vice versa. I remember so clearly those early turkey days because it was the only time of year that we’d empty the dining room table of papers and clutter. I’d help you dust the furniture, polish the fancy silverware and get the opportunity to “visit” grandma and grandpa in their hotel which, now in adulthood, I realize was a fairly crappy motor lodge. But as a child who’d had never herself stayed at a hotel, it was mysterious and exciting. Grandpa would brag about how quick and efficient his drive from Rockford, Illinois to Murray, Kentucky was in his Datson 280 Z. It didn’t even occur to me until now that meant that these two senior citizens would cram themselves into such a small vehicle for such a long trip.

But I digress.

Thanksgiving is the holiday of home. During my college years, it was that return to the roots and I reveled in coming back to reveal the person I was becoming whether it was via fashion or accomplishments or just the distance that going to college a few states away affords. By that time, you were married to your second and forever husband and settling into the holidays you’d always dreamed of hosting. This is when things became “a big deal” and you took your hosting duties seriously. You also surprised us all with a sibling, Emily Beth Korth. Born in 1992, she became the common denominator with our combined family. She meant blood relation on both sides. We all now had skin (literally) the game of the Korth-Begley union.

As I got older and married myself, the holiday began to rotate. Sometimes we would spend it with you, other times with my in-laws out-of-state. We were transient those early years of our marriage when it came to holidays and opted for what made most sense.

Then, we moved to Minnesota. We put more distance between us physically and we also bought our first home. And at some point, the idea of staying close became more appealing. As our roots and lives started to solidify in Saint Paul, the 4-day holiday became a respite. It became a time that meant we didn’t have to travel; a holiday to keep to ourselves. There was a Thanksgiving that you did come and visit in those early years and I’m so thankful for that. I think you wanted me to have a little of what you got early in your marriage, a chance to celebrate with family in our own home. It’s a lovely memory that I hold close to my heart.

But as the years peeled away, our Thanksgiving traditions started to diverge. We would call or text our greetings. Sometimes you sent me flowers or a table centerpiece. Minnesota Thanksgiving became a tradition that really started to set for James and myself. Has it been 10 years now? We cook a locally raised turkey, we invite friends over, there is always a puzzle, we get our tree and celebrate with a drink at The Tavern on Grand, we decorate for Christmas, we watch movies, we veg, we hike, we cuddle our pups, we enjoy the 4-day stretch and, on years we’ve needed to, indulged in Black Friday deals for technology like new computers and televisions.

I love Thanksgiving. I love everything about it now. I like the food, I like the meditation of the puzzle. I like to wear comfy clothes for 4-days straight and really connect with my little family (and, yes, I count a husband + 2 dogs as a family). I also love spending time with friends because they are the roots of our life here in MN.

But this year has been weird. I’m not going to lie. Coming into November, I started to dread the holiday in a way I’ve never experienced and, at first, I wasn’t sure why. How could I feel slightly repelled by the month and holiday that used to be my fave?

It didn’t require a lot of heavy digging to figure out why. Obviously, this is my first year without you physically on this planet, mom. Each first is going to sting. But it was also a year ago in November when your health really started to go down hill. It was early November when you fell and ended up on the hospital and hallucinated for 3 days with Barrack Obama speaking to you from the ceiling while James and I were forced to truly understand the gravity of your condition. Until that episode, we still had hope you would get a transplant, you would recover, we would have many holidays to come.

But after that painful week in the hospital, the game changed. And while you did recover from that initially, it’s when things really did change.

Not only do I have that memory close at heart, Thanksgiving 2 years ago was also when we lost our dog Dora suddenly and I still smart from that loss. She was only 9. It happened so fast. I will forever remember going from happy holiday mode to devastated “I can’t believe my dog is dying” in 48 hours. Looking back on November memories the past two years is such a mixture of pleasure and grief.

So, yeah, November this year started on me weird and melancholic and I was approaching with more trepidation that I knew how to handle.

Then it hit me. What was bothering me most was the absence of choice.

We had taken Thanksgiving for ourselves, James and me. It was our selfish indulgence and I never actually felt guilty or sad over that choice because Christmas was always there a month later. I didn’t feel the need to drive to Wisconsin in November when we could take the time for ourselves. But NOT having the choice to make the trip? That’s different.

That stings.

And the worst part? What I find the very, very worst part? I know the truth is that if you were still alive today with no health issues, we would not choose you. We would stay here in Minnesota, we would do our thing and I wouldn’t feel an ounce of guilt or sadness over that choice.

But because you aren’t here, this makes me deeply sad. I can’t choose to not choose you.

The good news? The holiday has actually been pretty nice. As darkly as I’ve been approaching the latter half of this month, now that it’s actually here, it’s been pretty joyful. Maybe I was able to compartmentalize and put that sadness in a box, but we had a pretty lovely Thanksgiving day that culminated in a fancy dinner of oysters and stone crab and a sunny outdoor walk with the dogs in the snow. Black Friday was a turkey feast with friends that was hilarious and indulgent and such food for the soul. And now I’m here in my cozy home on Saturday morning with a weekend still open ahead of me that will most likely include Christmas tree shopping, more time with friends, more puzzling and liquor and maybe some yoga, too. It’s a blessing. I am so lucky. My life is pretty damn great.

But I miss you. I really, really do. And I never got to say it to you in person, so I’m going to say it to you now:

Thank you. Thank you, mom. Thank you for letting me be selfish. Thank you for understanding my need to peel away and celebrate this day on our own. Thank you for never making me feel guilty or less than for not feeling a stronger pull to Wisconsin for this break. I know you understand. I know you understood. And for that, I’m so, so grateful.

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