One FOF recounts a bittersweet Thanksgiving. As she comforted a friend grieving the death of her mother, she’s reminded of the loss of her own parents, years before. Expressing gratitude for those who are still alive, she resolves, has never been more important.
It was touch and go if we would even have a Thanksgiving dinner. We normally celebrate Thanksgiving at my best friend Karen’s home, but this year her mother was on life support and she was not up to cooking. Everything other than my potato-leek Gruyere side dish was store bought at Whole Foods. The smell of roasting turkey and bubbling gravy were sadly missing.
My husband and I stood on the balcony watching the sunset while Karen’s Swedish house guests, Brigitte and Sven, waited indoors listening for a telephone call from Karen, who was at her mother’s hospital bedside.
At seven-thirty, Karen called to say that her mother, Eva, would not let go of her hand, and so she would stay at the hospital until the latest round of painkillers kicked in and she fell asleep. We decided to put out the meal and eat. Karen’s father, Ben, at ninety-eight, was showing signs of fatigue, and all of us were hungry despite the sadness of the occasion.
This was not the Thanksgiving we had looked forward to, and hardly resembled our Thanksgiving dinners together over the past ten years. Karen and her parents thought of my husband and I as part of their family. Eva would refer to me as her second daughter, which was poignant since her own youngest daughter had died of cancer when she was just eighteen.
It was our familiarity with one another that made the decision to have a Thanksgiving dinner palatable. Karen said, “Let’s just keep it low key. I know that I don’t have to put on a happy face, but it will be comforting to have you with me and Brigitte and Sven.” And that is what Thanksgiving should be–a gathering of close friends or family who are there for one another, and with whom much has been shared.
Two days later, Eva died at the age of ninety-three. I asked Karen what I could do to help.
“Would you come over to Ben’s apartment and write her obituary?” she asked.
I have ghostwritten memoirs, taught writing classes and published personal essays, including one about my own mother’s death. But my credentials were paltry compared with Karen’s own history as a renowned journalist.
I hesitated. “Are you sure?” I asked.
“Yes, I just don’t have the strength to do it. Mom and Ben and I will help you. I am sure you will do a great job.”
How was I to encapsulate a life in a few short paragraphs?
I made a few suggestions and the ideas started to flow: Eva had been a champion swimmer and bowler and an enthusiastic volunteer reading to children with learning disabilities. Karen wanted to include Eva’s motto, “Don’t get. Just give.” How fitting for the Thanksgiving season.
Eva’s favorite antique clock ticked off the minutes. The clock struck noon.
I interrupted my note taking, “What is today’s date?”
Ben looked at his digital watch, “It’s November 28.”
November 28 was the day we had celebrated by father’s birthday. My father died a month before he reached his fifty-third birthday.
I suddenly felt panicky; my heart was pounding and I couldn’t seem to catch my breath. I felt like there was a turkey bone stuck in my throat. One loss too many. I felt vulnerable and sad.
Karen looked at me, “Are you okay?”
I finally took a deep breath, “Yes, I just did not realize how your mother’s passing might affect me. But I am honored to do this for you. Let me read what I have and see if you like it.”
Eva’s obituary appeared in several newspapers over the next few weeks. Karen and Ben were surprised by the number of letters they received from friends and near strangers.
And I received a beautiful thank you note from Karen. “The greatest gift you could ever give me was writing the wonderful notice of Mom’s passing.”
Next year, we will say a prayer for Eva, and express our gratitude for those who are with us still.
Loren Stephens is a published author, writing workshop leader, and the founder of Write Wisdom. This essay originally appeared in longer form in The Anthology, Thanksgiving Tales.