Heather Gray

Flawed...but loved anyway.

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Why I Make Tamales for Thanksgiving

Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!

Psalm 100:1 (NLT)


Thanksgiving is just a few days away.  It's a time of family, fun, friendship, fellowship, and some other things that don't begin with the letter f, but since they don't fit my alliteration, I'm forced to forego them in my list.

Calling the first Thanksgiving without my daughter awful is an understatement.  It's been a  few years, but the memory is vivid.  I felt like I was made of cardboard and walking through wet sand.   Thanksgiving, you see, was our holiday.  It was a day we spent together in the kitchen.  She loved to cook, and I loved to share that part of my life with her.

We ordered in that first Thanksgiving because I couldn't face the thought of spending the day preparing a feast without her.  That first Thanksgiving meal tasted like crushed dreams and broken hearts.  It tasted like grief, like ash in my mouth.

The next year, as Thanksgiving approached, I wanted to do better for my family.  I wanted the day to be a celebration, but I still couldn't face the thought of making the foods my daughter and I had prepared together in previous years.  So I decided to do something completely different.

I made enchiladas.

And you know what?  I enjoyed it.

Granted, the family didn't think they were anything to write home about.  (Which makes no sense since they were already home…)

But I had fun.

The next year, I tried tamales.  They were a hit, and I decided to make tamales our annual Thanksgiving meal.

Now here we are.  Thanksgiving approaches.  Year two of tamales.  I'm looking forward to it. (Apart from a bit of a kitchen fire yesterday…but that's an embarrassing story for another time.)

What's the lesson here?

Life is messy.  It's splashes of mixed-up paints on a plain white canvas.  It's beautiful fall leaves against the backdrop of a homeless camp.  It's the luminescent sparkle of fresh snow with the threat of an avalanche.

Life is complicated, complex, twisted together, and sculpted from all our experiences – good, bad, happy, sad.

I make tamales because I wanted to enjoy Thanksgiving again.  I wanted to have fun preparing a big meal for my family.  I wanted to celebrate the day.  And while I'm doing all of that, I also miss my daughter at the table and in the kitchen.  She and I were a team, and this was our special day.  When I prepare the Thanksgiving meal, I feel her absence more sharply than a slip of the knife blade on the cutting board.  I don't think I'll ever entirely escape that.  And, strange as it sounds, I'm not sure I want to.

I made a choice, though.

Life is more kinds of mixed-up than you or I can count.  Days of brilliant beauty thrown together with days of scar-making darkness.  That's the human condition, and we can't escape it in this lifetime.

If I have to accept the good together with the bad, then I can at least choose how I will handle it.

God has blessed me with a family that is still here with me, that needs me, and that deserves my best on Thanksgiving.  So I will focus on that.  And when my daughter comes to mind, I will try to remember the magnificence of heaven rather than the ache in my empty arms.

Life is — among other things — emotional, and one of those emotions doesn't get to drown out all the others.  Not permanently, anyway.  Not unless we allow it.

Which I don't.

I will not sacrifice my joy on the altar of grief.

Instead, I will accept that they are both a part of my life, that they're both colors on my canvas.

I will celebrate life.  I will mourn.  I will laugh.  And I will cry.  I will do it all.  Simply put:  I will live

And I hope you'll choose to do the same.

Happy Thanksgiving!


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Wonderfully written post

I hope you and your family have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

What a beautiful post. So glad that you are finding new normals and making traditions that work for your family here and now.

I'm sure your daughter would be so happy to know that you have made Thanksgiving good again. This is a wonderful post touched me very deeply. Happy Holidays to you and your family

Heather, your beautiful post moved me so. You are a wonderful example of courage and grace in the face of tragic loss. Happy Thanksgiving to your family.