This holiday season has proven to be difficult, starting with Thanksgiving. Christmas day without my father seems to be unfathomable. For 46 Christmases my father sat at the head of my family’s impeccably decorated table, laden with Italian food and table gifts for everyone, courtesy Martha Stewart. my mother. Every course comes out at just the right temperature, the conversations are always a few decibels above what my father could tolerate, and there he sat, after saying grace, quietly enjoying his sumptuous Christmas dinner. If the conversation got too loud or we broke into a raucous song, he’d tell us to quiet down- even as adults. Dinner was the time to eat and discuss civilly, not for shenanigans.

My father used to say that nothing meant more to him than having his family under one roof. If it had been up to him, he’d have had me and my family living in his house, he used to tell me. His children were his pride and joy and he never made any bones about us being his greatest accomplishment. So to have his children and grandchildren surround him at the Christnas table, chatting and laughing made him beam.

This year there will be an empty seat at the table. It cannot merely be filled by someone else. We cannot just slide over to make his space go away. We cannot ignore that our patriarch will be absent, nor would we disrespect his memory by doing so. For 46 years my father guided me, taught me, and loved me. Had I not had him for that long, our bond would not have been as strong as it was. I’m a daddy’s girl and I’ll never apologize for that to anyone. I also cannot and will not conform to anyone’s time table of grief recovery.

So tomorrow, in addition to the huge hole in my heart, there will be a gap at the table. For my children I’ll be strong but on the inside I’ll be struggling with the absence of the person who had the single most important influence on my life. And I’ll toast him. This time, with a Fanelli dinner tradition- a ravioli.