Truthfully, I have been struggling with the concept of Thanksgiving this year. Losing my mother has been incredibly difficult for me and there are many days when I feel haunted by the pain of that loss. I’ve spent the last couple of weeks crying on and off again. I wasn’t sure how to reconcile our gathering for Thanksgiving when the person who held us together was my mother.
Our group was small this year–nine adults and two little ‘uns. And three dogs.
Normally a small group for us is fifteen people. When my parents had their current house built, my mother made sure her dining room was L-A-R-G-E on its own…and then she had a sunroom attached to one end in case we needed to expand the seating for some occasions. Some years we had my grandmother’s large dining room table which seats ten, plus two 3’x8’ tables attached. At my grandmother’s house we had more than 30 people some years. At my mother’s house, it was usually an average of 20 people.
No matter the number of people sitting at the table this year, my mother was the gigantic hole. Even the last two years when she wasn’t feeling 100%, she was there at the table while the rest of us buzzed around taking care of setting out food or cleaning up. She was there making faces at the turkey (which she hated), at the stuffing that everyone scarfed up (which she disliked), and p’shawing at the homemade pies she made (pumpkin, apple, and last year she added pecan pie for my Hub). She was there, in her seat to my father’s right. Across from me. That’s how we always sat in this house. Right across from me, right in my line of sight…we would make eye contact and roll our eyes at the conversation. We would communicate without talking. We would exchange commentary on the food and on the noise and whatever else. She was right there.
No more. Never again.
We did almost everything else the same. My uncle and aunt bring a barbeque turkey they like to eat. They brought their sweet potato casserole with marshmallows. They brought their salad. My brother (who lives there) cooked a 19 pound turkey. He made stuffing the way my mother made it (as best he could). He made my mother’s apple business. My other brother made fresh cranberry sauce. My cousin made a pumpkin pie. Hub and I made a couple of desserts (gf brownies and peanut butter cookies). I brought pickles and black olives. There was apple sauce on the table. A couple of baked sweet potatoes for those who don’t like the casserole.
But she wasn’t there. She didn’t miraculously appear. She didn’t buzz around the kitchen directing the traffic. She didn’t yell at my uncle for getting up and clearing the table too early. She didn’t remind us to put out little dessert plates after dinner. She didn’t offer tea and coffee. She didn’t laugh at the cranberry sauce spilled on the tablecloth…she didn’t wave her hand and say that stupid old inexpensive blue tablecloth doesn’t ever hold a stain no matter what gets spilled on it. She didn’t watch my father scarf down every dessert and scold him because of all the sugar. She didn’t make a face when he grabbed large pieces of turkey skin and “gobbled” it down. She didn’t laugh at how crowded her kitchen was while everyone was cleaning up, saying, “Even this kitchen isn’t big enough!”
She wasn’t there. She won’t be there. Ever again.
But my aunt and uncle were with us again. My cousin and her husband and their kids. My two brothers. My father. My husband. I’m thankful for that. I’m thankful that I was able to be there. I’m thankful we were able to feed all of us without blinking an eye. I’m thankful we had a place to get together that was warm and furnished and large enough to seat us all. I’m thankful we’re all trying to keep our traditions going. Even when it’s hard as hell.
And I try to remind myself to be thankful for all the years I had my mother sitting across from me (or next to me or near me). I’m thankful for all the years my grandparents were with us. I’m thankful for all the years my aunt and uncle on my father’s side were with us.
Maybe next year the guest list with be larger. Maybe it won’t. But I’ll try to be thankful again for what we have.
Right now, I’m going to go cry again. And when I go to sleep tonight, I’ll make my grateful list. And tomorrow night I’ll recite it again. And again the next night. Because I have so much to be thankful for, no matter what I’ve lost.