No Thanks(giving)

My parents and I aren’t in a Thanksgiving mood after my brother’s sudden death. Other relatives disagree. How can we can ditch the holiday in style?

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Fellow unhappy camper. (Wikimedia Commons)

I’m feeling the opposite of thankful. I can’t remember a Thanksgiving I’ve celebrated without my younger brother. This year, I’ll have no choice, because he suddenly died. Unless, of course, we don’t celebrate at all. My immediate family discussed taking a break from the holiday this year. But our extended family and friends say it’s important to be around people, it’s what he would have wanted, we should find small pockets of gratitude in the holiday, blah blah blah. I’m not convinced. What to do?

How I love Thanksgiving, with its cranberry sauce and parade and people telling you what you should be grateful for. Oh, wait – as it turns out, I only love two of those things. I don’t blame you at all for not feeling grateful when your little brother is gone. Moreover, we all know that no one can make you feel what you don’t feel, so your well-meaning relatives are, well, wrong. Especially if your immediate family is united on this subject, by all means skip Thanksgiving.

Listen, you’re going to miss your brother no matter what you end up doing. I see zero wrong with making the decision not to celebrate a holiday that you don’t feel up to celebrating. But, skipping something that scores of people around you are NOT skipping takes some planning.

  • If you can’t collectively fly the coop for an entirely different destination, can you, less dramatically, drive away from the coop for a somewhat different destination? Cities, in particular, even when fully decked for the holidays also have tons of people not celebrating, or working, or just getting on with their lives in a way that I have always found comforting.
  • No pain has ever been lessened by eating gas station burritos because everything else around you is closed. Check out what’s open, with a strong preference for things that won’t feature turkey on the menu, or places that will deliver. And make sure to stock up on food. Even if you’re not celebrating, you won’t get a pass from end-of-civilization-style lines at the grocery store on Wednesday.
  • Lean in to the fact that you’re skipping Thanksgiving. That is, don’t just eat cereal and watch the parade in your pajamas. Figure out a way to get out into nature, whether it’s a hike or a long drive or a picnic on a deserted beach. Then watch a movie. (Look, the day’s almost over).

Full disclosure: I have taken Thanksgiving off. Once upon a time, not freshly grieving, but feeling overwhelmed, I made the decision to skip what had been, until then, my hands-down favorite holiday of the year. I was worried I would regret this decision terribly, until I spent Thanksgiving morning hiking in a rainforest and Thanksgiving afternoon drinking frozen drinks by a pool and Thanksgiving evening eating steak. I’m not overstating the case when I say it was one of the best decisions I’ve made in the last five years. Now, every year around this time a little part of me thinks: you can keep your pilgrim stories and leaves crunching underfoot, if you need me, I’ll be by the pool.

Once Thanksgiving is over, you will, unfortunately, have no shortage of other special occasions to figure out how to navigate without your brother. But, chances are, somewhere down the line, you will also have holidays where you feel genuinely grateful and his memory will bring you joy. Why not just let them come in their own time?

Meg Tansey hails from New England, where talking about your feelings is frowned upon. She has lots of life experience but is not an actual therapist. Meg has a MFA from The New School and currently lives and writes in New York City. Send Meg your questions at (subject: Ask ML).

Please note: Questions may be edited for length or clarity. Modern Loss is not a therapeutic adviser; this category should only be used as a guide. Users should verify the veracity and appropriateness of the information posted on the site with his or her own therapeutic adviser. 

Top Image: Still from season four of Bob’s Burgers. Image courtesy of 20th Century Fox Television.

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