By David Leibowitz, GSN Columnist
Now comes our family’s season of firsts: first Thanksgiving meal, first Christmas morning, first anniversary of my mother’s death.
It feels impossible to believe a year has passed without her voice occupying the air. Maybe that’s because my mother, her voice in my head my whole life long, has never stopped speaking to me, not for a moment.
“This too shall pass,” she liked to say about particularly challenging situations. “Aaaanny-who,” she would sing-song to signal she was ready to change the subject.
A Brooklyn girl by birth and attitude, my mother sometimes favored profanity, mostly directed at society’s worst offenders: drivers weaving wildly between lanes, trashmen incapable of getting all the garbage into the garbage truck, incompetent politicians of either party, and most of the medical personnel who poked, pricked and prodded her in the final days of her 71 years alive.
A nurse for two decades, my mother hated hospitals with a passion, or at least being confined to one as a sick person. She was never good at caring for herself, mostly because she spent every bit of her energy caring for her family.
She was that way to the end, fretting about us, urging, cajoling, caring. It was the subject of the last lucid message she left for me, before the morphine took over and she drifted away for good.
I’ve probably played that minute-long voice mail a hundred times. “It’s in God’s hands now. I’m not doing this,” she says, kept alive by machines. “I love you. Take care. Take care of yourself. Take care of each other. I love you, Dave. Bye bye.”
So on Thursday, our little family will gather in south Florida. It will be like always – my brother will tell stories about his job; my niece and nephew will be quizzed about their plans for the future; the game will buzz in the background – except it won’t be anything like any other Thanksgiving.
Now the only place my mother hovers, attending, supporting, is in my mind’s eye. She is never not there, at least thus far, even if she won’t be the one ladling gravy over the bird or denying everyone in the house the chance to wash a dish.
My mother always did, at least when it came to us. A year later, she remains my family’s adhesive, the glue that binds us. She’s the noun in all our stories, the star performer waiting just off-screen.
Except there will be no grand entrance, not this year.
Instead, we will huddle in the room she used to fill up despite being not quite five feet tall. We will dote over my father, about to turn 73 and without his wife after 55 years of courtship and marriage. My dad keeps trudging forward in his own way, slowed by time and Parkinson’s and loss. He still smiles a lot, but you can tell the conversation he enjoys most is the one taking place in his head – in all our heads.
When I was a little boy, I believed the dead resided in heaven, above us, walking on clouds.
Now I know the truth: Those we lose live inside us, where they continue to guide us through the world. They care for us even after they’re gone, and for that we should all be thankful on this Thanksgiving Day.