The Empty Seats at the Table


Last year, our Thanksgiving was a small affair. Small as in the four of us. Schedules and sickness prevented either side of our family from spending the holiday with us.

Instead of bucking tradition, Mike and I did everything we would’ve done had we actually hosted a feast for everyone. We cooked a big turkey on the rotisserie and made gravy from the drippings, and we prepared side dishes, including mashed potatoes, roasted sweet potatoes, and Brussels sprouts. I put out a few cheeses and dips, and we watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on television. The kids went for a swim, rode bikes, and played video games. The difference came when it was time to eat. Setting the dining room table seemed silly, so we ate dinner in front of the television.

Everything was fine. The food was fine. The kids were fine. The clean up was fine, but I was not fine. For years, our parents had been the center of our holiday rituals and traditions, and as we ate our Thanksgiving dinner with plates in our laps while browsing the DVR, I realized that framework was fleeting. We had always been supporting actors in a Thanksgiving play starring the elders of our family, and their absence, whether it was temporary or not, made me feel lost and alone. My husband and kids surrounded me, but all I could see were the empty seats at the table.

“We’re not doing this next year if it’s just the four of us,” I told Mike as I loaded the dishwasher for the third time. “We have to make new traditions.”

I wanted a fresh start.

Now, I’m shopping for sunscreen instead of sweet potatoes because instead of setting the table for Thanksgiving at home, we’re setting sail on a family cruise. It’s the fresh start I wanted, but it doesn’t feel exactly how I thought it would.

I should have known that avoiding a traditional Thanksgiving wouldn’t make the empty seats at the table any less empty. I should’ve known that I’d pack those empty seats and take them with me just as I carry their weight in my heart at home. I should’ve known that all of my Thanksgiving memories and expectations would serve as an impossible comparison no matter the locale.

As I rummage through drawers and closets looking for everything we need to pack for our getaway, I’m also searching for gratitude – for the rituals and traditions our parents have lovingly passed down to us, for the opportunity we have to make new ones with our kids, for the seats that won’t be empty this year, and, most of all, for the beloved memories of the seats that will never be filled again.

Wishing you love, peace, and gratitude this holiday season.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Filed under family, Thanksgiving

2 responses to “The Empty Seats at the Table

  1. Beautiful. Yes, empty seats, new seats, moving forward while carrying the past…


  2. dltolley

    I remember the transition from ‘their’ holidays to ‘our’ holidays. At first, things seemed rather small. Now? We can’t seat everyone around two tables! And the best thing? Our kids are starting their traditions with their kids! Going on into the next generations. Such a bitter-sweet moment!


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