This is a very special Thanksgiving for me as I really feel so blessed after a year of trials, tribulations and challenges that life always seems to lob my way. But this year did seem tougher than most.
It was rough physically (the challenges of a back that will not cooperate), emotionally (dealing with feeling helpless when one’s body will not cooperate) and financially (getting laid off and insurance company b.s. ’nuff said).
This year also gave me many gifts.
The knowledge that now more than ever I am survivor. Always have been. Always will be.
The wisdom to trust and love myself more and unconditionally and to not let anyone or anything make me feel any different.
The courage to take flight and follow my bliss and do the dance of life as if no one was watching.
The deep understanding of what is truly important in life and that I have everything I could every want or need because my children are healthy and alive and nothing else would matter if they were not.
So freeing. So empowering. So humbling. So thanks-giving.
However these lessons came through experiencing death big time. Over the the last the past twelve years or so I have literally lost more than twenty people very close to me – including the biggies: my nana, my step-mother, my father, my aunt, other relatives, extended family members and very close friends.
Death did not take a holiday in my world. It came to my door and kept on knocking.
How much does that suck? Do you have any idea? Perhaps you do, but doesn’t make it hurt any less. Does it?
But as they say, out of the ashes….
In April 2004, about a week before my youngest son’s Bar Mitzvah, I was watching CNN and heard about yet another set casualties of the Iraqi War. It never in my wildest imagination dawn on me that it would be my baby cousin, Nate , who was serving his second, reluctant tour of duty and who was due to come home in less than a month.
But the next day my phone rang, and my “middle” sister was sobbing out the words. “Nate is dead.”
Oh-my-God. Baby Nate. No – could it be a mistake. No it wasn’t. Unfathomable. Surreal. Unnecessary.
Were we to take comfort in the several “historical” firsts that surrounded his death? Nate had the dubious honor to be the first Coast Guardsman since Viet Nam to perish in the line of duty in the first ever suicide boater attack of the Iraqi War.
Gee, I would say that this is one time being first is definitely not a win.
Oh, by the way, at the age of 24, Nate was the “senior” officer to the two other Navy men (ages 18 and 19) who also died that spring day of April of 2004 saving an oil-tanker off the coast of Basra.
I think I would give up driving to bring those boys back. I would think his pregnant wife Pattie, his parents and step-parents, his sister and brothers and grandparents and friends would feel the same way.
Nate was decorated posthumously with all sorts of stars and stripes – true American hero. A bunch of metal does not make it easier to accept that his death is a violation of the circle of life and just so wrong on so many levels.
His baby daughter, Harper Natalie was born November later that year. She will never have a Thanksgiving dinner with her father nor will she ever know her father in real life, she will only know him through the stories of her mother and others. I will make sure she knows how wonderful a man her dad was as a child.
My mother adored him and I have a beautiful photo of her glowing while holding him when he was only a few months old. She loved all babies. I get that gift from her. Little did we know when that photo was taken she would be dead in a few months. At the young age of forty-six. My nana never got over losing her “baby” either.
Then in 2006, came the devastating loss of my cousin Paul to pancreatic cancer. The amazing thing was that he battled this killer disease for six years – which is unheard of with this kind of cancer – usually you die in six months – but six years! We were all pretty sure that Paul was going to be the one to beat pancreatic cancer where it lived.
But it wasn’t meant to be.
Paul’s death really blew me away. We were born one week apart, the exact same year (and no I am not going to reveal what year). As kids, it always bugged him that I was just a measly bit older than he. His mother was the oldest of three daughters, my mom was the youngest. His mother was married for ten years before procreating. My mother was married for about a minute…well not exactly that short, but you get the source of his angst.
It bothered him that I matured faster – as most girls do – that I grew taller than him around puberty. Boys have huge egos and Paul was no exception. While it did bother him, I know he loved me alot. He let me come into his room and he would tell me about sports. Maybe that’s why I am such a good “boy” mommy.
Paul’s comeuppance came as we became adults. He was always the first one to call me on my birthday and he loved teasing me and revelled in the fact he was now younger than I was.
Well he was. At least for a week.
Oh and when we turned the big 4-0 – boy he milked that one for days. That gave him such pleasure.
Paul will now be forever young as he succumbed to his illness in July of 2006. I am sure he wouldn’t have minded growing old (with me always older) with his wife and three daughters and the rest of us. Now his mother, my Aunt B, gets to spend this Thanksgiving without her eldest son.
My cousin, Seth was also one of my best friends – our relationship transcended our blood and despite that fact I had diapered him as a baby. Seth was accomplished at so many things, piano, Hebrew, French and was at the height of his career, having moved to Philly to work for Comcast. He was diagnosed with AML leukemia in December of 2007 the first month of his relocation – about a year later – he was gone. He only 39 years young and leaving a mother, brother and the rest of us who adored him. A big gap at the holiday table this and all years to come.
A few months ago, the unspeakable murder of a young girl named, Lily Burk blew me away. I heard about it on the news. She was a stranger to me but had attended Oakwood School and many of my son’s friends who went there knew her personally. I didn’t, but I cried like a baby when they reported that missing was now dead.
She was a good girl from all accounts and was running an errand for her mother when evil took her from us too soon. She is not here with us and I mourn her loss with her parents who will not be spending Thanksgiving with their only child.
And lastly, three weeks ago, I attended the funeral of a nineteen year old girl, Hilary – killed in broad daylight with two others when they were in head-on collision on Highway 46. The same road that claimed James Dean’s life.
No drugs. No alcohol. Maybe just bad driving judgment but is that a good enough reason to be taken too soon. I don’t think so. Why I asked? But no answer came.
Again she was a friend of a dear friend’s daughter and I didn’t know here very well, but when a child – any child – is taken from us too soon, how can all of us mothers and fathers of the world not for this loss. I went to pay my respects to celebrate her life and indeed it was a beautiful celebration. Her death has made me so appreciate my life. Thank you Hilary.
At her funeral I was driven to take photos at her gravesite. As a Jew that taking photos at such a place truly sacreligious, but I have gotten over being that kind of Jew. So I went with my gut and took a bunch of photos and therein lies the blessing of listening to one’s heart.
And while her parents were the epitome of grit and grace and many said Hilary didn’t think she would live a long life.
She is not here this Thanksgiving and I am sure her parents, family and friends wish she was.
But, I am here this Thanksgiving – giving HUGE thanks and in total gratitude for what I have and not worrying about what I don’t have.
My business is starting to take off, after a rocky start, but still many bills go unpaid, for now.
My house needs urgent repairs and my stove was home to a pesky rat who lived and died in it, and I cannot afford a new one. A toaster oven and microwave are doing the trick. Can’t make pasta…but then again don’t need to be eating pasta (blessing in disguise).
Yes, my skin is showing some wrinkles. Yes, my back creaks and cries. Yes, my knees cry and creak. Yes, my stomach roars and growls, especially when I don’t eat right. And, yes, my butt is so wide I can’t even fit into my fat jeans.
But guess what? I don’t care. I am here. I am alive. A bit older, a bit worn and definitely wiser.
And I have my “baby” men here with me and my growing brood of furbabies who are always pure love and always available for cuddles.
Maybe they should call Mommy and take time to come visit more often. But I wouldn’t trade places with anyone one of the parents who have lost their babies too soon.
I am so grateful I have them to love, hug and even argue with – and on this Thanksgiving and any other day of the year -when others are sorely missed around their families tables .
I have NOTHING to complain about!
I am giving thanks for all that I have – which money or position or power cannot buy.
Six years ago, I was supposed to fly back home to have what we no know was the last Thanksgiving Paul was to share with us. However, fate intervened and with going standby – I couldn’t get a flight. While waiting for the next plane I became terribly hot with a fever and knew that the flu was coming on.
How lucky for Paul and his compromised immune system that I did not get on the plane to N.Y. Had I made it there, I probably wouldn’t have been able to see him or do much of anything anyway. So instead, I got the comfort of my own bed to recuperate in and a jolly phone call from all my relatives to cheer me up.
Sometimes we don’t know why things happen the way they do…we have to trust there is a bigger and better plan. Losing a child is not one of those things I can wrap my head or myheart around yet. But maybe next year…or maybe never.
I did get to see Paul a month before he died. We knew it was a matter of time and we laughed,we hugged, I cried. Paul comforted me. That’s who he was.
So here are Paul’s words in an email to all his family and friends from Thanksgiving 2003 – it is a prayer I look at when I am down. It is a prayer of true Thanks-giving.
To my family and friends:Happy Thanksgiving to all.
I hope each and every one of you have a reason to be thankful.
I certainly do….
-an incredible supportive and loving wife
-three terrific and loving daughters
-a family that is always by my side
-friends that are caring
-generous and loyal partners
oh yea, and another year.
Enjoy your holiday as much as we will ours.
With love, paul
Thank you Paul and Seth and Lily and Hilary for showing me how precious life is and how all that matters in life is if you love and are loved but your family and friends.
Are you thankful for what you have and who you are blessed to share it with?