Are you winning the holidays? With Thanksgiving just behind us, you’ll know what I mean. There is the question of the turkey, naturally, whether it had that perfect Instagram burnish and the appropriate five sides, in elegantly mismatched serving dishes. Maybe if you tried hard enough, all that was perfect. But then there is the gathering around the table. At a minimum, you got through the meal without a fight. To really win, though, you need to curate the conversation, make sure it covers a couple of enviable vacation stories, the college application season, and all the rest. If you think keeping up holiday appearances is exhausting (spoiler: it is), take a look at Cody Delistraty’s essay at the end of the magazine (see Last Word). He writes about how the “imperative to avoid appearing unhappy” drives us to outdo one another in presenting perfect domestic scenes. That will ring true if you’ve ever ended a holiday get-together feeling like you just haven’t measured up.
Everybody knows this season can be exhausting or disappointing, but for some of us it’s much harder than that. My wife’s sister, Carolina, died last year on the day after Thanksgiving, after a lifetime of struggling with mental illness. After the meal, she drifted off into a nap. We drove her home, not realizing her body was shutting down. The next day she was dead of kidney failure, the consequence of years of lithium and other drug treatments. Her illness always made Thanksgiving painful and unpredictable. Sometimes she would skip it, and that, too, made it painful. She rarely had much medical support, except when things got bad enough to check into the hospital; her family got even less. Always around the holidays we’d be keenly aware of how lonely Carolina’s struggle was. She would go into the holidays feeling alone, and we would feel that, and often feel unable to help. And now that she is gone, we feel lonelier still.