I grew up in St. Louis with one brother and four cousins (and appropriately attached aunts and uncles). We didn’t all live in the same house, but it often seemed like we did. It was the proverbial village: loving, loud, solid.
About fifteen years ago, my uncle decided that Thanksgiving would be The Family Holiday. No matter where we were (and we were all scattered by then), the cousins were all expected to come back home for Thanksgiving. With just a few exceptions (military deployment, pregnancy after 36 weeks), we all returned to St. Louis for Thanksgiving — every year.
The last time we spent Thanksgiving in St. Louis, Julianna was two. We had known about CMT for a few months, but it hadn’t yet declared itself as a lifespan-limiting disease. A few weeks after that last trip home, Julianna had her first hospitalization for respiratory failure.
We fought this beast of a disease with everything we had, but kept losing ground. Runny noses turned into ICU admissions, and she lost hard-earned motor skills. Worse still, she started needing more help with vital functions like breathing and eating. At some point, she became very medically complex and fragile. Travel became impossible, and we had a permanent and unwanted exemption from Thanksgiving in St. Louis.
This year, St. Louis Thanksgiving came to our house, and it was epic. More specifically, it was:
Most of the cousins have married and procreated, so our Thanksgiving party numbered 25+. This is the frenzy that ensued during a photo op for all of the babies.
And this is the reason for all the fuss.
Involved very little cooking.
Thanksgivings in St. Louis are homemade. This one was a heat and serve affair but still delicious.
We did make a few things. My nephew (pictured in the middle) loves baking cakes. Julianna and Alex were eager to help.
Baby Heaven for Julianna
If you ever want to see pure love, look into J’s eyes when there is a baby around. This weekend, she had these three cuties to adore.
A Mini Princess Boot Camp
This weekend, Julianna got to meet her first and only girl cousin (also a J 🙂 ) for the first time. Julianna insisted on letting Baby J borrow her Princess things. To Julianna’s delight, Baby J was a natural.
Featured the Man Mani
During a previous visit, Uncle E lost a bet and was supposed to get a manicure with J. We ran out of time, and Uncle E’s nails went unadorned. Julianna didn’t forget — she never does. This time, all of her uncles joined in. More delight for J.
Included a Halloween Redux
After reading my blog post about how J was not able to go trick-o-treating on Halloween, Uncle E had the brilliant idea of having another Halloween during Thanksgiving. It was a complete surprise for J.
Unpredictable and a Little Bittersweet.
There is a tendency to advertise perfection, especially when it comes to the holidays. Nothing in this world is perfect, and our family and life circumstances are no exception.
Plans for spending Thanksgiving 2015 with us started over a year ago. When my family first asked about it, I wasn’t sure. Would we feel like celebrating? Would we be in mourning? How would we protect Julianna from all the winter germs that our well-meaning family would surely bring from busy airports?
I have learned that control is mostly an illusion. We must try our best, of course, to protect the blessings we have been granted — but if our plans are obsessive and driven by fear, we can’t really live.
So we had our big fat Korean-American Thanksgiving in this medically fragile home. I made everyone get get flu and pertussis shots. (It made me feel better, and everyone was kind enough to comply.) As it turns out, all of our guests were fine, and Steve and I were the ones who ended up getting colds. I still worry, but in the end, all we have are face masks, lots of Purell and the knowledge that we are all in God’s hands.
Thanksgiving 2015 was spectacular. It was all about making moments and truly living. All good things have to come to an end, though, and this is hard. I have never liked good-byes, and Alex seems to have taken after me. As our last guests prepared to leave, he attached himself to one of his uncles and said “Don’t go! Don’t go!”
We all gathered in Julianna’s room and said one last prayer. One of J’s uncle’s asked for strength for our family and thanked God for Julianna’s life and example. Throughout the prayer, Alex kept saying “Don’t go, don’t go!” There were some tears and a bit of heightened emotion.
After we were done:
Julianna: What is Alex saying?
Me: “Don’t go.” He’s sad that everyone is leaving.
And just like that, the mood lightened. She was right, of course. Thanksgiving 2015 was epic, but it’s intense having 30 people in your house and eating eight meals a day. Even crazy good can’t last forever.
We are sincerely grateful for everyone who has reached out to us. Your messages – via e-mails, Instagram, and letters have touched deeply. Julianna and Alex have enjoyed your stories and gifts. I have wanted to respond individually to every single person who has reached out, but it hasn’t been possible. Please accept our sincere thanks.