When friends and friends of friends would talk about the dread they felt about going home for the holidays I typically would cock my head to the side, furrow my brow and nod sympathetically. I, personally, didnt have that dread, but for my fellow urban-dwellers, it was a shared belief: Los Angeles sucked, but going home sucked even more. Truth is, I looked forward to the holidays. I enjoyed flying home to New Jersey to spend time with my family. Sure, my sister would make the occasional comment that rubbed me the wrong way (You never would have worn that before you moved to LA.); and of course my mother would over-parent, making me feel young-but-not-in-a-good-way. (You do know youre supposed to write your account number on your checks when youre paying bills, right?) But these things were over-shadowed by a warm house where the electric was free, movies on the family room floor and laughing like I did with no one else. This was home. On April 12th of this year, two days after I got married, my mother passed away, leaving a hole in our family so comically large one would think it could only exist in a Wes Anderson movie. We were lost. And we started fighting. Some times we ignored each other for days. Other times we went old school, acting aggressively passive, blaming whoever was closest in proximity for whatever we were feeling. I tried to pit my father against my sister, she tried to pit him against me. In June, there was a brief stint where we both were against him. There was even a chipped tooth indirectly caused by all the tension.
I questioned whether my decision to move to home was a good one. Belly laughs and movies on the family room floor seemed like world that may or may not have ever existed. The house seemed colder and I missed my friends.
It was uncomfortable, the dynamic. Foreign and everything my mother wouldnt have wanted. The four of us always got along wellnot in an irritating way, but enough to make us feel like we were a little bit better than most families. Indeed, we were the normal ones.
But as the weather changed from hot to sweltering hot to cool, things started to settle down. Everyone seemed to have reset themselves; we were even were laughing again. We can do this, I thought. We can become normal again.
And then came the holidays.
Do we have Thanksgiving at our house like usual? Its what Mom would have wanted us to do.
Who has the recipe for her mashed potato pie? Anybody? I know it involved Kraft singles. Have we been making yams the past few years? Nobody even eats them. Forget it. And have you ever even made a turkey? Its okay, well figure it out. Should we put our own little twist on things? You know, maybe make pumpkin place cards or something? Mom wouldnt have done that, but it would look nice. Oh, and who are we inviting? Everyone? Or just us? We need to know because that will change the size of the turkey we need to get. If its just 5, well need a 12 pound one. Thats what it said on marthastewart.com. Whats that? Youre changing your mind? Now you dont want to have it here?
What are we going to do? Nothing? Thats even more depressing! Aunt Linda offered to host. Do we want to go there? If thats what you want to do, thats fine with me. I said it would be fine. Well, of course I dont want to go there. Shes not exactly a good cook. Whatever, at least we wont have to clean. I thought you said thats what you wanted. Dude, seriously, you just pick. I dont even care anymore. The days in November alternated between hostile, quiet, remorseful, then back again. We knew why we were fighting. It didnt take a PhD to figure that part out, but why couldnt we stop? Our individual pain was crappy and embarrassing enough, but when balled together, it was unbearable. Id think of my mother. We all would. Looking at her urn sitting on what was she and my fathers dresser, Id feel her disappointment, her judgment and unrest. I longed to feel her cold hands and have everything be the way it always was. But I was furious with her for not taking better care of herself and leaving us how she did: broken, lost and scared. When the end was terrifyingly obvious for her, she and I had a conversation that went like this: Her: Im not scared to die. Im just afraid for you guys. I dont want you to be sad or mad or anythingMe: Mom, well be okay. Please, dont ever worry about us.
At the time, a huge weight was lifted. My mother wasnt scared to die. The rest was easy. Weve decided to stay home. It will be my husband, sister, her boyfriend, my father and myself. Well each make one dish. The Bloody Marys and wine will be plentiful. There has even been talk of spending the whole day in our pajamas and ending it with a movie. Well see. Regardless of how it pans out, it will undoubtedly be a terribly sad day. We probably wont talk about it, though. Not then, at least. We should be thankful for one another. That, we can agree, is how my mother would want it.Nicole Fabian has written for television shows such as What I Like About You, and websites such as McSweeneys Internet Tendency and Hackwriters. She currently works as the Associate Editor for ThirdAge.com. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.