It was great having a big crowd at our house, but so difficult waiting for their arrival. When would they get here? The slowest morning ever!
If we were the guests, we’d get in our car bright and early for the long two hour drive to my cousins’ house out among the New Jersey cornfields. Some years we’d detour through the Bronx (NYC) to pick up my grandparents and after four hours and a couple of bouts of car sickness, we’d arrive to a house full of cousins, games in the basement, platters of food, a warm kitchen and our moms — Two sisters, together again, chatting non-stop. We’d stay very late, fall asleep in the car and talk about doing it all over again next year.
Over the years, the usual crowd scattered about. My brothers often went to their wives’ families. My aunt had died swiftly and horribly from breast cancer. My mother had dealt with her own diagnosis, but persevered, flourished for a long time and a happy Thanksgiving could still be found in our house. I would leave my Manhattan apartment for the comforts of home, a long weekend with nothing to do, but eat, sleep and hang with family until it was time to go back to my insular world in the city.
One year my mother was too sick from her breast cancer recurrence to host Thanksgiving and didn’t feel up to going anywhere. My brothers were off with their growing families and I had been invited to spend the weekend with my boyfriend’s (husband to be) family. I wanted to go, but felt the pull of my parents alone on Thanksgiving. I remember my father asking what I would do. He said we’d have Thanksgiving.
The lure of a familiar Thanksgiving was too great. Visions of it blotted out reality and when I arrived Wednesday night I was annoyed to find a dark, quiet house. No bustle, no music, no warm smells wafting from a bright kitchen. Not even a cold turkey taking up space in the refrigerator.
Zero signs of a happy life. Just screeching evidence of one ending in a bed down the hall.
I’m not proud of my next moments. Instead of understanding, pitching in, cooking, helping any way I could, I took the role of petulant child and gave my father grief for ruining my holiday. I could have been somewhere with people celebrating, laughing…not dying.
There was no Thanksgiving here.
The words I said to my father still sting in my memory.
“Now, I’m stuck here for the whole weekend.”
I remember his justified anger, his voice breaking, “Thanksgiving, it’s her last one.”
I knew that…somewhere inside, but maybe by wrapping myself in memories of Thanksgiving past I could ignore the devastating situation that was playing out right in front of me. Pretend it wasn’t truly happening and the unthinkable wouldn’t, couldn’t be real. But, of course, it was and even the strength of denial couldn’t stop it.
Less than 4 months later she was gone.
I want to say I’m sorry. Sorry for being so bratty. Sorry for acting as if my good time was more important than my mother or my father, who took such amazing care of her. Sorry for the words left unsaid on that day, on many days…
Happiness is not a divine right and sometimes life craps all over it, but it’s ingrained in me to be thankful for my childhood, for the love two sisters had for their families. Thankful for the joyous anticipation I still feel and am trying to instill in my own children as Thanksgiving approaches. As my mother did for me.
I’m thankful for my family and friends, near and far. I’m thankful for NED and most certainly for the house full of people I’m lucky enough to surround myself with on this special day.
One, so very different, so very far from that dark, quiet house 12 years ago when there was no joy. I wish I could let it fade away, wipe it from my brain and focus on the many other days that bring me to still love this holiday. Love it as my mother did.
I’m working on it.
And to all of you who read my words,
I am so thankful for you and your unwavering support and encouragement. I wish you your best Thanksgiving yet.
10 thoughts on “Thanksgiving Past”
Happy Thanksgiving to you on this day – I hope it's filled with love, and the best memories of your mother and family. You know more now than you did back then, 12 years ago, and I hope that understanding in itself helps you find resolution and forgiveness for what obviously still hurts. Thank you for this raw and beautiful post. ~Catherine
Your reaction that Thanksgiving was something all of us can relate to. It was fueled by the somewhat \”me focus\” we all had at that age and your eagerness to embrace the new family that awaited you, which was in stark contrast to the fact that the family you'd known all of your life was ebbing away. On some level that Thanksgiving, all of you understood one another's pain and frustration. I hope this Thanksgiving, where ever you are, is a joyous one.Brenda
dear stacey,i agree with brenda, and think that there was probably a confluence of overwhelming emotion for all of you – disappointment, fear, sadness and anger, hallmarks of grief, though not full-blown for a daughter your age, who wished for the happy thanksgiving she'd always had. i know it must be heart wrenching to recall the memory you write about with such candor, but hope you forgive yourself and let the love and gratitude you feel for the rich legacy your mom left you of the meaning of family and celebrating together banish any guilt. love, and happy thanksgiving,karen, TC
Oh Stacey, I am reading this in tears and a sharp jolt of recognition too. Thank you for your honesty in telling this story of your Mom's last Thanksgiving – not everyone would be so honest. Like breast cancer, wrapped up in a pink bow, the horrible realities of death are not spoken of. When my own Mom died from cancer last year, I was shocked that it was so brutal. It was no Hollywood style dying -the one the movies lead us to expect. It's a time full of conflicting and painful emotions, the memory of which stays with you for a very long time. Thank you again for your honesty in telling it like it is. Love Marie x
Catherine, thank you for your kind words. I'm not sure understanding helps, but writing about it after all this time seems to lighten the load somewhat. Especially with comments such as yours. I had a very nice Thanksgiving. I hope you did as well.
Hi Brenda, thank you for reading and understanding where my disappointment and bad behavior might have come from. Even all these years later, it's difficult to accept, but it's nice to know others get it. I so hope you had a happy holiday. Hugs to you.
Karen, I can't say thank you enough for your understanding words. It was difficult to write about, hard to face that memory, but wanted to share just another crappy moment breast cancer forced upon us. Although, I suppose I could have handled it better. It still would have sucked beyond belief. Thank you for your caring comments. I hope your Thanksgiving was a good one.
Thank you, Marie. The odd thing is moments like that seem so unreal. It's as if the rest of the world is living their normal, everyday lives and how could this nightmare really be happening here? I never wanted to speak about it before because who would understand? Of course, I should have realized the amazing supportive community I've found here would get it. I'm so thankful for you all. Hugs to you.
we do beat ourselves up sometimes don't we! your reaction was so normal Sometimes I think if we don't react this way we aren't normal!! We went through a period when I had lost 2 very significant women in my life. My grandmother died at the age of 93, not even a year passed and we lost my mother. The first Christmas my grandmother was gone we expected my mom to do Christmas as she always had. But she didn't she called almost last minute and said she wasn't feeling well. well of course I said she ruined the holidays and she was always complaining. It was not nice. I did realize she was not faking it she wasn't ill when I called my dad and he said she'd been sleeping the days away.. A few weeks later my mother collapsed, she never came home again I went through this whole guilt what kind of daughter.. I always say tongue in cheek that Catholic Guilt is the worst guilt. My mother died that next July of 1999. We have never had a family function since then My older brother doesn't invite us, my step-dad well he changed religions that don't celebrate the holidays. When I'm thinking about them I lost my brother 3 years ago and that's a hurt that doesn't quit. He was always the backup guy I say to my mom and brother out loud.. How dare you die and leave us with no back up plan…. I think they understand….. Love Alli XXX
Hi Stacey,Thanks for writing such a heart felt reflection about Thanksgiving. It sounds like your family get-togethers were quite the productions. It's truly wonderful to have all those memories isn't it? I love thinking about the great Thanksgivings my mom used to \”throw together\” making it all look so easy. And then there was her last Thanksgiving…my mom lasted about four months after that too. I wasn't actually even there for my mom's last TG. I decided to \”take a break\” that year and stayed home. Was that selfish? Maybe, maybe not. My mom and dad spent that TG at my sister's house. I try not to feel guilty about not being there that TG, as I know I did the best I could at the time. Still… those feelings of guilt do resurface now and then. Anyway, thanks so much for sharing your story, Stacey. It helps knowing others have been through similar things. I hope you enjoyed your holiday this year. Now we're the ones creating memories for our families. And that feels nice.