The Thanksgiving I remember the most was when my mother got up off her, well, her death-bed, really, and came to the table. We had always celebrated Thanksgiving in her house. It was a great time for food and family. Always the same meal, turkey (always carved by my father), stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potato casserole (yes, sometimes with mini marshmallows on top), and her homemade watermelon pickles. And always, always, homemade pumpkin pie. More often than not, there was at least one or both of my only living grandparents at the table, Grand Pop Thompson, my dad’s dad, and Grandmother Phoebe, Mom’s mother.
This time that is so poignant in my memory is when my mother had been fighting cancer for about a year, and was finally in her last days. The hospice nurse had called the Monday of Thanksgiving week to tell me my mother was “actively dying.” I madly gathered up my four children, the three youngest not quite teenagers at the time, checked out of work, and drove through a blinding rainstorm from Richmond to Alexandria. When we got there, Mom was sitting up in her hospital bed – installed in the living room – reading something. She looked up and said, “What are you doing here?” Of course I couldn’t tell her I was here because she was dying; so I just said, “well we just decided to come early!”
She had three days of decline, we could all see it – she slept a lot, and I slept on the couch next to her bed. I woke numerous times each night to check on her, wondering if she had died while I snoozed…The kids confided to me when we were alone upstairs, “We are afraid Grandma is going to die while we are here.” They absolutely adored her and has spent many days and weeks with my parents, getting to be the “only kid” instead of one among triplets or a family of me plus four kids.
”Grandma’s not going to do that.” I assured them, secretly hoping I was right, but seriously not having a clue. But of course, she let me keep my word; she died about four days after Thanksgiving, one day after we had returned home to Richmond.
This year is the first year in my 66 on the planet that I will not have my family around me on Thanksgiving; I am headed up to see my love in Canada, where they have already had their feast of gratitude. Wherever I am, though, I will set a place at the table for Mom, and try my best to serve up as much love and gratitude as she did.
I am so ready to retire from working on faculty and university grants and let my creative juices take over my life.