Rockford, Illinois, USA
February 05
I'm a regular middle aged guy, living in a regular middle class neighborhood, in a regular middle-sized community in the middle of America. I am an expatriate Texan transplanted to the Midwest, and wondering how I got here, and where I'm headed.

Procopius's Links
Editor’s Pick
NOVEMBER 26, 2008 11:04AM

Thoughts on Thanksgiving, and My Mother's Death

Rate: 30 Flag

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  It seems a more “pure” holiday than either Christmas or Easter.  The latter two have lost much of their Christian sanctity due to the infusion of completely non-Christian, cartoonish symbolism.  In the case of Christmas, unbridled commercialism has corrupted the simple beauty of the event that the day is meant to celebrate. 


Perhaps it is natural that the two premier holidays of Christianity would be subject to secular corruption.  After all, both of these days were originally pagan celebrations that were co-opted by the early Christians to ease the transition from paganism to the new faith.  Maybe it was the Roman era Christians who waged the first “War on Christmas” by associating the birth of Jesus with a holiday celebrating the winter solstice and the Roman god, Saturn.  Sorry O’Reilly, the war on Christmas predates your involvement by a couple of millennia.


Thanksgiving comes with neither the ancient, nor modern, baggage of Christmas and Easter.  It is simply a day to gather with the family and reflect on the good around us, and to express our thanks to the deity for our good fortune.  What a day!


Despite my fondness for the day, it is one that has painful associations for me.  When I came home for Thanksgiving my junior year in college, I could tell something was wrong as soon as I walked in the door.  I was not greeted warmly by my mother and father.  That was strange.  My father rose from his chair in the den, and in a subdued voice told me hello.  “Your mother is in bed resting,” he said.  I asked him if something was wrong, but I already knew the answer.


The cancer had returned.


My mother had completed her first chemotherapy treatment earlier that day.  It was to be an 18 month contest to see if the cancer cells could be killed without first killing their host.  Of course, the host lost that battle.


Mom made a valiant effort to celebrate that day.  She wrote her thoughts down on paper, starting a written journal to record her journey into life’s last stage.  There was no self-pity.  She wrote of her wish that God would comfort the family of a friend of hers who had recently passed away.  She wrote of her wish that God would watch over her widowed husband and give him strength.  She wrote of her wish for the happiness of her children, two of whom were already adults just finding their place in the world, and me, still a student whose mother would never see graduate or marry or become a father.


Thanksgiving was hard that year.  My dad, as was customary, said a prayer before the meal.  He burst into tears in the middle of the prayer and could not finish it.  My mother did it for him.


Thanksgiving was hard the next year, and the year after that.  The third one after Mom’s diagnosis was the first celebrated without her.  My father did not want to celebrate Thanksgiving that day.  He wasn’t very thankful at all.  It was just he and I.  My siblings lived far away and were unable to come.  I wasn’t ready ignore the holiday, though, so I cooked the closest thing to turkey I knew how to do, a simple chicken dinner with rice, and a salad of iceberg lettuce, cheese, and avocado.   I said the prayer before the meal, and afterwards my father thanked me.


In later years, Thanksgiving’s joy returned to my father’s home.  Three years after my mother’s death, he met a woman who literally saved his life. They married four weeks after their first meeting.  Dad said, “When you’re my age, you know what you want, and when you find it, you go for it.”  I could not have asked for a more lovely, and loving, stepmother.  The first Thanksgiving after their wedding, my father resumed the custom of offering thanks to God before the meal.  He began weeping again, unable to finish the prayer.  This time, though, the tears were tears of joy. 


The second Thanksgiving weekend after my mother’s diagnosis, I left the house to go camping with my closest college friends.   It was a therapeutic outing, since death was an ever present entity at home in those days.  After my mother’s death, my best friend from college sent me a poem he wrote after our Thanksgiving campout.  I have kept it all these years.


We breathe out the spreading smoke

That rises with our words into the night

And goes dark against the sky

Beyond the touch of firelight.

Above the pines a comet falls,

A message from the gods that burns

And scatters, nothing left, the heavens

Blank, as the earth begins to turn

Us from the streak of gold gone black.

Our tobacco smolders dark, and words

Die out.  We wrap ourselves for sleep

And hear the call of night-birds,

Recall the dullness of your mother’s eyes,

Her talk of wings.  We shiver.  A bird flies.

Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
Steve--in tossing this gem out into the cosmos---somewhere, somehow, it will land where it is needed . This is an important story. So good in so many ways.

I really liked your Dad's remark about knowing what you want.

That chicken dinner you made? Know it well.

And your friend's poem still stands.

Here's to a holiday now happy again!
What a wonderful, bittersweet memory, Procopius. Couldn't get through this without tears welling in my eyes. So sorry you lost your mom so young. Yet your memories are so vivid and warm. Your father sounds like a wonderful man and lucky for you both, he found sweet love again. Your mom will be smiling down on you and yours again this Thanksgiving. Blessings and grattitude are such good reminders on this special holiday.
Beautiful Steve.

I lost my grandmother on Christmas Day 1998 and it was sad.
It took a couple of years for my mom to get back in the "Christmas Spirit" but it slowly did and we started reminiscing about her quirks and funny memories from Christmases past.

I'm glad you've found peace, as well as your father.

Peace and Blessings,
Very beautiful and touching Procopius. That a friend wrote the poem in honor of your experience is most moving, and that prayer defines your families "thanksgiving" is meaningful.

I will be spending the second Thanksgiving since my wife's death alone. The first year I spent it with friends. For some reason this is most fitting. I have some wonderful memories to keep me company and a library full of books, and a stove that still works.
This is lovely. Thank you for sharing this. Many blessings to you and your family.
Thank you for sharing this story. I lost my mom the day after Mother's Day eight years ago. I don't think you ever get over losing your mom. I'm glad your dad found happiness and that you are still able to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday. I'm wishing you an especially happy one this year.
Roger, thanks for the kind words. I suspect every single man has made the same chicken dish that all mothers teach their grown male children!

Cathy and mama, thanks to both of you, too. Happy Thanksgiving!

Greg & Amy, the loss of a loved one on a holiday brings a special poingnancy to the day, but hopefully it's one that brings good memories filled with happiness.

Ben, I hope this Thanksgiving is one filled with beautiful reminders of love given, and love returned. I believe that love does not die when the one loving moves on. Love is a power that lingers after death. I think you will experience that tomorrow.
As the others have said, thanks for sharing this. It's been 30 years since my Mom died, and as Amy said, you never really get over it. But that means you never lose her, either.

Wishing you and your family and your Dad who was open to love a wonderful Thanksgiving!
I imagine it is hard to be thankful after losing someone so close to you. But every beginning has an end, as each end is a new beginning.
I agree with Roger, this is an important tale and good in so many ways.

From my family to yours, may you have a most Happy Thanksgiving.
"you never really get over it. But that means you never lose her, either." Well said, kestral. Thanks for adding that.

Bill, thank you for your comment. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, spent surrounded with those you love!
Thank you for this heart-felt post.

You wrote: She wrote her thoughts down on paper, starting a written journal to record her journey into life’s last stage.

You were very lucky to have this happen. Among other reasons, it shows that your mom was at peace with her fate. That in itself is a comfort.
At the last Thanksgiving I spent with my family my mother was dying of cancer. It was a horrific affair in which everyone involved behaved badly. I haven't celebrated Thanksgiving since then. So today I'll give thanks for that positive story and touching poem.
Hi Steve

I have to admit, I started to cry as I read your story. I've seen so much death in my family---it's not always as graceful and doesn't always allow for much closure.

Happy Thanksgiving--it's a lovely piece.
Thank you for the memory and feelings about love and loss.
the poem made me tear up, but then I was always a sucker for the levels of devotion or parents show us,..........even after they pass.....
m.a.h., I do feel very lucky. Thank you.

hatchet, thank you, and I hope you see much more to be grateful for all around you!

toni, death is rarely graceful, but we just have to move on aand live...

Gary, it's been 30 years and I still tear up when I read my friend's poem. He continues to write, by the way, and has been published numerous times. But that one he wrote for me I'll always treasure. Thanks for your comment.
I, also, had tears in my eyes. Thank you!
Thank you for sharing your story. I lost my father to cancer 15 years ago. I had just had my second child and wanted to go home for the Thanksgiving holiday and spend some quality time with him, but he passed 2 weeks before I got home. November always bring up that memory, and I always know to the day when he passed away. With misty eyes, I say, "Celebrate Life!". The memories of our loved ones live on forever.
A really moving, beautiful recollection of an exquisitely difficult time.

What really shines through, though, is how much love, grace and warmth you are able to bring to the tale.

Your mother would be very proud indeed.

(And your friend's poem is really stunningly beautiful. A gorgeous tribute to your friendship.)
This was a three Kleenex post for me. So sad, but interwoven with such hope for the future, too. I hope you can enjoy a peaceful and happy Thanksgiving this year, full of your mother's spirit.
It's hard to talk about the death of a mother or father. It's like there isn't any language that can really describe that grief and that loss.

My mother died almost three years ago and I've still not been able to write about it.

Your post shows that finally it becomes something that you can talk about--almost.

Your post
This hit hard as I read it just now
Today my dearest friend went home from a Boston hospital after some restart chemo which followed a failed drug in a clinical trial which followed a brief respite after a year and a half of surgeries, chemo, new drugs tried, thousands upon thousands of dollars of organic food and naturapathic supplements and treatments...her grown children are gathered..the teacher daughter and her new husband flew in from Atlanta, the second year med-student son is in from Baltimore, her youngest , a sophomore at Austin, and another sister in college locally who lives at home...outstanding offspring from two outstanding friend earned her Masters in Library Science while recovering during the surgery free and chemo free respite !

Her great desire? To be well enough to fly to Denver and visit a younger woman with serious cancer who needs encouragement!
To Musubi, John, & grandma, my heartfelt condolences for your loss, and empathy watching someone you love slip away. It's very hard. I hope Thanksgiving brings fond memories of good times.

cathy944, thank you for stopping by. Happy Thanksgiving!

Leigh, thank you for your kind comment. It was very easy to love my mother. I'm glad that came through in this post.

Lisa, I hope the sad memories of Thanksgiving did not come across as spoiling all of them for me, because I love this day, and have SO MUCH to be thankful for. Yes, there were 3 very difficult ones, but even those were filled with love, albeit intermingled with tears. Such love as that is something to give thanks for. I'm glad you stopped by.
Love this post Procopius. I got teary in the middle, but I'm sure you did too. thank you for sharing. Happy Holidays!!!

p.s Yes, I shaved my beard off last week.
Profondément touchant !
Thank you for this heart rendering story. How fortunate you were to have the parents you did and to be a witness to their love. Cancer is a terrible thing to witness a parent have and I remember well my last Thanksgiving with my father who was dying from a malignant brain tumor. The love surrounding him that day was blinding. I'm so happy for your father that he found love again and you so lovingly accepted this woman into your life. A wonderful, although bittersweet, Thanksgiving story.
David and Monsieur, a heartfelt "merci" for stopping by. I appreciate your comments.
Great story! Very lyrical and moving.
Delia & Donna, thanks for stopping by and commenting.
I understand completely and send you this I say. I am Thankful for the days I had her here on Earth. I continue to be Thankful that my memories are strong. Peace be with you.
This is so very sad and beautiful. ~r