In my household, we’ve been rewatching old episodes of “Tales from the Crypt,” a show we (30-somethings) were too young to fully appreciate when it was on the air, but feel nostalgic for anyway.
This past Friday night, as we watched the episode “And All Through the House” — in which a killer in a Santa suit stalks a woman through her home on Christmas Eve — I found myself tearing up. As the episode opened, Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song” played as the camera panned through a cozy home decorated for Christmas and a cozy-looking fire. Yes, I knew this opening sequence was a precursor to some campy, gory horror story — was it ever! — but that song brought on a wave of home-for-the-holidays longing I didn’t know was lurking in my heart.
Suddenly, I missed my parents and my extended family. And it really hit me that I won’t be seeing them (in person) anytime soon. I won’t be visiting them for Christmas this year, or Thanksgiving, or any of our many winter birthdays. I don’t know the next time I’ll be back to my childhood home.
I’m close with my parents and my extended family. We have never skipped a Christmas or Thanksgiving family get-together. But, we are forgoing it all this year. My mom is considered high risk for COVID-19 complications, but even if she weren’t, we know traveling and gathering all of us together aren't the right things to do this year.
When that Christmas song played last weekend, a reel of moments I’d miss played through my head: No post-meal board games on Thanksgiving. No wrapping gifts with my dad on Christmas Eve, teasing him as he uses a yardstick to ensure straight edges. No smell of anise seed cookies my mom bakes. No glow of the Christmas tree reflecting through the dark house as I turn in for the night. No big Christmas Eve dinner, followed by all of us crammed into my parents’ living room to watch a Christmas movie.
I’m beyond sad that I’m missing all of that this year. But I know this is our only option.
My brother Brian died suddenly last year at 37. It shattered our family. He was a great dad, a caring friend, a loving husband — the kind of guy who visited our late nonagenarian family friend when she was in the hospital and rubbed her feet, for example. I’ve often thought to myself: I would do anything to have Brian back with us right now.
Washington University researcher and West Frankfort native Beth Prusaczyk on our Weekend Forum page today invokes the image of the empty spot at the dinner table. This has become a common tableau — as health experts and government leaders urge us to stay home, to cancel family gatherings for the holidays, they talk about that empty spot at the dinner table to symbolize the lives lost — and the lives still yet to be lost — from COVID-19.
And when I hear or read that, I always think about my brother. His death left that empty spot at my family’s table. Many of us have experienced that kind of grief. I think to myself: What if someone had time-traveled and told me skipping the holiday parties and staying home would have allowed me to keep my dear brother on Earth a little longer? I would have done it — no questions asked.
My brother didn’t die from COVID-19, but when I think about all those future empty spots at dinner tables, and I think that we have tools to perhaps prevent the death of somebody’s Brian, I know my decision to literally stay home for the holidays is the right one. I’m confident I’ll have the opportunity to make up for lost time with my family next year.
Alee Quick is the local news editor for The Southern. She can be reached at 618-351-5807 or email@example.com.