Gobble, Gobble... Gulp.

Turkey Day has always been my favorite holiday. Ever since I was a kid, my family has piled in the car and driven to Connecticut to spend a few days with my mom’s relatives. Especially as a teenager, the trip was a mini-vacation. I helped name the turkey (“Tom” usually won), stayed up late engrossed in a novel, and enjoyed the break from my drama-overload friends.

But now, without my mom, it’s different. Holidays can be hard for anyone, and they’re especially tough when you’ve lost someone close.

The first Thanksgiving without my mom was the worst. My dad and I drove for three hours in near-silence. For the first time in 20 years, I sat shotgun. I hated it because it reminded me she was gone. Before the feast, at a table surrounded with 10 of my mom’s relatives, Uncle Stuart cleared his throat: “Let us pray for our dear, sweet Sally. We miss you and love you.” We all ate with lumps in our throats.

It sounds cliché, but each year really has gotten easier. I’m most thankful to two angels: my little cousins Jamie and Greg. Last year, on Thanksgiving morning, I overheard the two of them plotting my wake-up call. “You tickle her feet!” Jamie whispered. “No, you do it!” Greg begged. Little fingers attacked my toes as I giggled and tickled them back. When you wake up laughing, a good day is practically guaranteed. I can’t wait to see them again this year. (They’re the little rascals giving me smooches in the photo!)

Are holidays tough for you? What makes them easier? Is there anything special you do to remember the person you lost?