This first Thanksgiving without my mom is a holiday I’m experiencing from the sidelines. Even though I’ve been cooking all day, there is no formal, sit-down meal to share with family, for we are scattered in different directions. (I think the cooking is mostly therapeutic.) My dad’s neighbors have adopted him, my daughter is in Georgia, my son is spending the day with his dad in their new home, one of my siblings is in New York City, and the other is celebrating with her in-laws. I had considered volunteering at a soup kitchen and made some phone calls to explore possibilities but didn’t follow through. The bottom line is that I just want to lay low this Thanksgiving. It is quiet here in this little empty nest on the river.
Yesterday, we had our first snowfall of the season. This morning, I woke up to a snow-covered world and went out in search of beauty for the first time in a while. I took a walk in my special sanctuary close to home, where I spent many frigid mornings last winter in silent solitude. It occurred to me that the last time I walked there in the snow was when my mom was sick. This is the first snowfall since she died, and I’m filled with gratitude for how the snow-kissed beauty of this special place saved me almost daily last winter. In this place, I found tranquility, inspiration, beauty, and joy. I was elevated above the challenges and filled with energy to attend to everything that called for attention. I’m grateful for the snow-covered trees that were here for me last year and transformed my grief into gratitude today.
While walking, I contemplated gratitude. In addition to family, food, good health, and shelter, the following blessings rose to the forefront of my mind:
- Reconnecting with old friends. Many friends from high school and even earlier resurfaced in my life upon hearing of my mom’s illness and death. Connecting with long-lost friends is like collecting lost pieces of myself. Some people who were little more than acquaintances in high school have showed up most faithfully and literally have offered me a shoulder on which to cry. As much as I’ve tried to forget the teen years ever took place, there is an undeniable bond that is forged through growing up in the same town and sharing a common history.
- New friendships formed by shared grief and understanding. Knowing that others in my circle are experiencing the same loss gives me strength and comfort. I know I’m not alone. And the most wonderful gifts are the stories we share with each other – of dreams, peculiar occurrences, and awareness of our loved one’s presence. Many times, I have experienced a tingling, hair-raising sensation from head to toe when listening to friends’ stories. I long to hear them and share mine freely. We speak the same language, describe the same sensations, and transmit hope and joy to each other. The friends with whom I was close when our children were babies always have held a special place in my heart, and clearly it is the same with the friends I have made in the wake of our parents’ deaths.
- The helpers who stepped forward out of the blue. Often, they weren’t the people closest to me but natural helpers who find their way to those in need – for example, one of my dad’s neighbors who shows up frequently on his doorstep with home-cooked meals and even an apple pie (with a heart-embellished crust) on Thanksgiving morning. These dear souls fill me with hope for this world and inspire me to be more helpful and giving.
- Having a closer relationship with my other family members. My mom was the only extrovert in my family of origin. She was like a puppy that greeted us gleefully at the door. She did most of the talking and often talked for us by being the default family messenger. A large percentage of our communications took place through her. Now that she is gone, we have to step out of our introverted comfort zones and communicate with one another. I’m building a much closer, direct relationship with my dad, and my sister and I turn to each other when we miss our mom and when we feel upset about matters we would have brought to her. I think it would have been unfortunate for my dad to have died without experiencing a more direct relationship with his children. It used to be that we would talk with Mom on the phone, Dad would come on and say hello, and then Mom would fill him in on all the news afterward. But now he doesn’t get the news from her; he gets it from us. He is able to receive presence and love directly from us now. This is perhaps the greatest gift my mom could have given him – and us – by leaving us.
All of the above are blessings received as a result of losing my mom. It’s easy to sink into sorrow when thinking about what her death has taken from us. But I know that on Thanksgiving – and every other day – my mother would want us to celebrate the ways in which our lives are richer as a result of her life – and even her death.
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