Two years ago, on Thanksgiving, my father made his last trip to my house. He and mom came up for dinner, then spent the night. That night he gave her the Christmas presents we'd ordered for her over the Internet.
"I don't know if I'll be able to give this to you on Christmas," he told her. It was the only time I ever heard him talk of what he might not see.
As you know, he wasn't able to after all.
Today is the first holiday that my mother will host since his diagnosis in April 2003.
The holidays always lead one to think about what one has, is thankful for, and even what is wished for. This holiday I'm a bear, and I admit it. I don't want today, I don't want this weekend. I want it to be the weekend so that I can pretend Thanksgiving didn't consist of five of us around a table that used to hold ten or more.
The last time my mother had dinner at her house, my father and grandfather were alive and my brother was married. My aunt came over with her boyfriend-now-husband. Her daughter stopped over, as well. The house was noisy and rather chaotic as my then-two-year-old ran about getting into everything and the men watched football with the volume too high. The table was overloaded and everyone had to squeeze into their seats.
I know. Time marches on. New traditions need to be made, old ones need to be modified. I'm not going to fight the inevitable. It's really all just a matter of perspective.
I'm not the woman I was before Dad got sick. I'm going to start my new job on Monday and meet people who know me as I am today, not as who I was and who I became. Nursing a loved one towards death forces change, despite one's best efforts.
My brother changed, too, though I suspect much more subtly. While I was busy learning how to say "no" and learning how to trust myself, he was examining his life. A month ago he made the decision that he owed his son more then parents who happened to live in the same house. While divorces are never pleasant under any circumstance, I find myself hard-pressed to condemn anyone to live in a house where walking in the front door at the end of the day does not bring a sense of peace.
And here I am, a few hours away from going to my mother's and trying not to compare what was to what is. I'll do okay, I'm sure. I always manage, though I'm saying it without the same frustration that I once did.
I've often remarked to my students that we need to prepare them for a world where bosses won't always guide them through the rough spots and where employers will expect much more then teachers sometimes do. When they hit a wall, they need to find a way to get around it. Preferably intact.
And so it's Thanksgiving, and as I sit at my laptop in the kitchen and watch my son eat play with his toys and watch Playhouse Disney, I think about how tiny he was when he was born, just a bit over four pounds. Gavie came to us eight weeks early, and for 32 days we lived at the hospital and waited for him to outgrow his apnea and learn how to swallow.
I have a husband who lets me write at will, who encouraged me to go back to school, and who said "go ahead" when I took the FMLA to care for my father.
I've a beautiful house, a career with potential, and family and friends who I can count on.
There's much to be thankful for, obviously, and this is a tiny start to the list. I'd like to add one more, one that has often earned a few confused looks. I'm thankful for going through everything that I have gone through, both good and bad. I'm thankful, I once told my students, that I was able to be there for my father.
That's not the part where they ask if I lost my mind. That comes when I tell them that an experience which turns their world upside down is something I hope they have. It has nothing to do with wishing them difficulty, but everything to do with the way that one changes as a result.
Somewhere, in the boxes that I brought home from work, I have a wise little phrase, which I'll paraphrase until I can dig it out: our character is determined by how we respond to those challenges that rise to meet us.
Happy Thanksgiving, readers.