What in the world do we do about Thanksgiving this year?

It hasn’t been a particularly great year for anybody, so it feels a bit odd to plan a celebration around being grateful. For my family, this year’s Thanksgiving will be similar to last year’s: we will observe a holiday of joy soaked in grief. 

While 2020 has been a difficult year for everyone, last year was even harder for our family. In 2020, we lost our sense of normalcy and security. In 2019, we lost Michael.

Michael* was my kids’ best friend. His family lives across the street from us—as in,  we can stand at our front door and wave at their front door. Our four kids and their two kids literally grew up together.

Michael was almost exactly a year older than Sparkler, and a regular fixture at our house. When our doorbell rang, joy would erupt in our living room. “It’s Michael! Hi, Michael! Let’s go out to the trampoline/play Playstation/play pretend!” Gamerboy, Sparkler, and Ranger all considered him their “best friend,” because he was a generous, friendly soul who knew how to make everyone feel included.

On a January afternoon in 2019, he played for two hours in the snow with Sparkler and Ranger. The next day, he helped his dad shovel their driveway. Later that afternoon, he came down with an excruciating headache. That night we learned he had a blood clot in his brain, and he died before the end of the week.

His loss was a sudden and terrible blow. While we felt only a sliver of the grief that his family did, it hit my children so deeply that they could hardly think about it. 2019 was like a weird dream sequence, where real life went on mostly unaltered, except when we stumbled over the wreckage of a world we’d loved. In some ways, the strangeness of 2020 just felt like a natural extension of 2019. 

But this year, everyone has lost something. Some people have had to mourn loved ones without even a funeral. Some people have lost jobs, homes, or security. All of our children lost out on sports events, drama performances, traditional graduation ceremonies, hanging out with friends, weekend game nights. Elections and politics ignited controversy and anger. A big portion of my homeschooling this year has been guiding my children through anxiety and grief. After all, whether big or small, losses hurt.

And in the middle of all this mess, here comes Thanksgiving! It lumbers into the room like a muddy golden retriever who rolled in something dead and now expects us to let him sit on the couch. What do we do with Thanksgiving this year?

I suppose that’s up to each person, because everyone deals with adversity differently. I have several friends on Facebook who list five things they’re grateful for every day. Other friends have skipped Thanksgiving and leaped right into Christmas joy. As for the Joneses, we’re taking a full week off school, filling up our time going for drives and playing new games. Darren will plan something special for Thanksgiving dinner, including our traditional drink of sparkling apple cider if it’s available. Maybe I’ll collect some pretty leaves, on which everyone will write something we’re grateful for. We’ll scatter them on the table for a simple Thanksgiving decoration.

Whether we celebrate or don’t, I think it’s important that we don’t try to minimize the impact that the last year has had on us all. Ever since January 2019, I’ve learned that I can acknowledge our blessings while still mourning what we’ve lost. Both are equally important. It’s an uncomfortable tension to live with—but oddly fitting for 2020.

So here’s to Thanksgiving, whether it brings tears or laughter. Or, what the heck, just raise a glass of sparkling cider and embrace both.

 —Sara

*Name changed for privacy

Photo credit: iStock.