Christmas sucks without your cigarette breaks

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She looked at me like I was fucking orphan Annie.

– Me, Thanksgiving Eve, three sips into a Long Island Iced Tea

It’s the best of times. It’s the worst of times.

The holidays, however joyful, are never easy in the days, weeks, and months following the loss of a loved one. The heavy hitters like the brother who died in a car crash just days before the New Year, the step-father who didn’t make it through surgery that September or the mother who gave chemo all she had but lost by one in overtime.

The grief that never really goes away.

I spent the second Thanksgiving Eve without my mom (and the seventh without my dad), doing whiskey shots at a dive bar called JJ Bubbles (Bubbles for short) and then — not one hour later — weeping into my Long Island Iced Tea at the next one.

(Cue: “Don’t fucking tell me to go home.”)

What nobody manages to mention when somebody close to you dies is the eyes. The eyes that water up whenever they catch yours. The eyes that magically appear to look down not just at, but on you, no matter how much shorter than you the person who they belong to might be. The same ones that say, “I know you’re not okay” without actually having the tact to say it.

More than one person this Thanksgiving Eve — the biggest party night of the year for a reason I’ve yet to determine — looked at me, to quote myself, like I was fucking orphan Annie looking for my Daddy Warbucks and/or Jaime Foxx in a sea of Miss Hannigans and/or Cameron Diazes.

More than one person that no good, terrible, very bad night asked me what my plans were for the next day.

More than one person was sincere or, at the least, genuinely curious.

More than one person was not.

More than one person did so in a way that sounded more like, “Oh, you poor thing. Do you have any plans at all?” than “I care about where you’re going tomorrow.” More than one person laid on the same “I’m sorry” eyes that start to get old no more than five or six hours after the death of a loved one. [1]

The holidays fucking suck. They never get better. They only get worse.

– Me, Thanksgiving Eve, post-Long Island Iced Tea to a friend of mine who, five months ago, buried his mother

And I’m complaining about tact?

I don’t remember his reaction — nor do I know how much of this he actually remembers — but I can still feel the words rolling off my tongue. They felt sharp like knives and tasted terrible. I shook him as I said it and cried harder and harder until it was 3 a.m. and Fall Out Boy was on. He and his (beautiful, loving) girlfriend (who I peed in front of for the first time that night) followed ten steps behind me on my two-block walk home because, “I can fucking do it.”

I was on a roll — but I was right (see also: very, very wrong).

The grief never does go away. It just stings a little less each year.

That thanksgiving was the worst, and not just because of the crippling hangover that left me quiet and cold to both my family and wine. It was the hardest holiday since last year because, while we’re led to believe that time heals all wounds [2], it really just acts as scar tissue.

This wasn’t the first Thanksgiving without my mother [3] and it was by no means the first without my father, but it was the first one where they really felt gone. They were characters in stories without seats at the fold-out table and I was to the far right, hungover, parent-less and stress-sweating on a plastic chair. Seven years later, I still get the chills (and a slight stress rash) whenever someone else carves the turkey.

One year later, I’m still hoping she’s just outside, soaking up her seventh cigarette break.

One year later and the “I’m sorry” eyes are still the only thing that make it feel real.

Each snowfall, tree trimming and ball drop cuts close to the bone but, sooner or later, the burden gets easier to bear. The load gets a little lighter and, one day, you will feel the presence of a small, imaginary stranger, there to take the weight of the world off of your shoulders and sprinkle it into the abyss of the New York City sewer system [4].

The takeaways:

  • Each passing holiday is a small victory, and there’s always someone out there (dead, alive, and/or imaginary) waving a finger-glove in the cheering section. Remember to thank them.
  • Avoid Long Island Iced Teas (they might make you a monster).

1. This may very well be stage two of grief talking. It’s likely that more are sincere than I think.

2. To quote the Dixie Chicks, “They say time heals everything, but I’m still waiting.”

3. That one was a fucking bitch.

4. Where dreams and litter go to die.


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