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 most important is 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 came to my door and kept on knocking and knocking and knocking. When would it ever stop? When would the hurting stop? 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 Iraq War. Never in my wildest imagination would it dawn on me that what CNN was reporting on was the death of 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. NO. Could it be a mistake? No – it wasn’t! So Surreal. So heartbreaking for all of us who knew and loved him. Were we to take comfort in the several “historical” firsts that surrounded his death? Nate had the honor to be the first Coast Guardsman since Viet Nam to perish in the line of duty in the firstever suicide boater attack of the Iraq War. I would say that this is one time being first is definitely not a win.
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 protecting an oil-tanker off the coast of Basra. I would think his pregnant wife Pattie, his parents and step-parents, sister, brothers, grandparents and friends would undoubted feel the same way.
And while Nate was decorated posthumously with all sorts of stars and stripes and is a real American hero, I think I would ask if a chestful of metal would make it easier to accept that his death. That his passing is a violation of the circle of life -a child should never precede it’s parents, let alone grandparents – and so wrong in so many other ways. When Nate died, his wife Pattie was pregnant and his daughter, Harper Natalie was born November later that year and she will never have a Thanksgiving dinner with her father nor will she ever really know her father in the flesh. Harper will only know him through the stories of her mother and the rest of us. I will make sure she knows how sweet and wonderful her dad was as a child. A fond memory I have is that my mother so 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 but she had a special place for him. Little did we know, back in 1978, when that photo was taken, she would be dead in a few months, succumbing to cancer too soon, at the young age of forty-six. My nana never got over losing her “baby” either.
Next 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 – one usually dies in six months of diagnosis- but he lived for 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.
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 idea.
It so bothered him that I matured faster and that I grew taller than him around puberty as most girls do. 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 as adults grew into a deep friendship that transcended our kinship and despite the uncomfortable fact I had diapered him as a baby. Seth was brilliant and 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 – and just about a year later – he was gone. He was 39 years young when the ravages of fighting leukemia took him too soon and he left his saint of a mother, brother and the rest of us who adored him. There will be a big gap at our table this holiday and all years to come.
I only met Lily Burk on the radio and TV news. From all reports, she was a good girl and a good student. She was running an errand for her mother when she was reported missing and eventually it was found that evil took her from us too soon. She was a stranger but had attended Oakwood School in the San Fernando Valley 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 this young girl who had gone missing was now found dead. I wanted to puke. I thought about my sons and what tragedy could potentially befall them. I couldn’t even fathom losing them to such a violent and senseless end.
She is gone and I mourn her loss with her parents, family and friends who will never again spend Thanksgiving or any other holiday with this beautiful child who was murdered. Again my heart grew heavier for yet another baby that left us too soon.
And as if this cloud of death was not enough, three weeks ago, I attended the funeral of a nineteen year old girl, Hilary Kendall-Fix – killed in broad daylight in a tragic car crash on the way back to college with two other friend when they were struck down 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.