Family Traditions: A Thanksgiving Story

By Trish Day

Maria tested positive for Covid-19 on Sept. 19. She felt like she had a bad cold; but just days later, she was fighting for air. Her daughter Chloe grew concerned, and called her sister in a panic. “Mom can’t breathe! I think I need to call an ambulance!” Her sister Nicole agreed, and grabbed her keys off the counter to rush over to her Mom’s. All the way there, her heart was pounding, thinking of her Mom, praying everything would be okay. Her Mom was everything to her and loved her kids so much. She was the glue that held them all together.

As Nicole approached her Mom’s  home, she saw the flashing lights. They were transporting Maria to the hospital. She saw a brief flash of her Mom as paramedics whisked the gurney into the waiting ambulance. They were administering oxygen, and Maria couldn’t speak; but Nicole yelled “We love you, Mom! We’ll see you at the ER!”

But at the ER, Chloe and Nicole were stopped at the door. “I’m sorry. You can’t come in,” the attendant explained. “We are overwhelmed with Covid cases. It is safer for you outside. Tell me the make and model of your car, and I will come out as soon as I can to update you on your Mom’s condition.”

Chloe and Nicole sat in the car for two hours; crying, praying, trying to keep each other calm. Finally, the attendant came out and told them their Mom was being admitted.

In the days that followed, life stood still as they held vigil in the parking lot with other local families, all waiting for word of their loved ones from inside, all praying for a glimmer of hope. It was surreal. Unbelievable. Their beautiful mom, so vibrant and healthy, who was the loudest in the crowd at T-ball games and drove their daughters to ballet – was in there, alone, fighting for her life.

Ten days later, she was gone.

The girls felt so much shock and grief, they could barely function, and the weeks that followed were a hazy blur. Before they knew it, it was Halloween, and they struggled to dress the children in store-bought costumes and they plastered on smiles for their little ones, even though they felt numb, even though it was hard.

Later that chilly night, the sisters sat together on the back porch, sipping hot cocoa in front of the firepit. “I can’t do this”, Nicole said through tears. “I can’t pretend everything is okay.” Chloe sobbed. “Mom would’ve been here tonight! She would’ve sewn their costumes, she would have given out candy”. Nicole laughed through tears “Remember last year when she had us all bobbing for apples?” Chloe snorted. “She was the best!” and in spite of their pain, they smiled at the memory. “How are we going to do Thanksgiving without Mom?” Nicole asked. “We’re not”, replied Chloe. “We just have to skip it this year. I just can’t do Thanksgiving without Mom.” Sadly, her sister agreed.

In the weeks that followed, the girls had to prepare their childhood home for sale. This meant deciding what to keep, what to donate, what to store away for Maria’s grandchildren. This was the hardest part for Chloe and Nicole, and they felt like they were on autopilot, numb at times, breaking down at others. One afternoon, Nicole came across a small leather notebook. She sat quietly on the carpet and started leafing through its pages. It looked like notes her mother had written to herself. In that old familiar scrawl, she had written “don’t forget Wednesday’s fundraiser” and “take Jake to T-ball practice on Friday”. On and on it went, little handwritten reminders to herself, a random quote here and there, a hastily scribbled recipe…then she saw what appeared to be the final entry. It said simply: “Give more. Love harder, because this all ends.” That hit Nicole right in the chest. She took out her cell phone to call Chloe. 

“Hello?” Chloe said. 

“Hey, are you busy?” asked Nicole. “No, I’m free until I have to pick up the kids from school. Why?” 

“I’m coming to get you!” Nicole said excitedly. “I’ll explain when I get there!”

A few minutes later, she pulled up in front of Chloe’s and honked the horn. A frenzied Chloe ran out, looking perplexed. “What’s the big emergency?” She asked.

“We have to go buy our ingredients for Thanksgiving!”

“What???” Chloe asked, incredulously. “I thought we were skipping it this year, you know, because of Mom.”

Nicole said “No, we’re doing it, and we’re doing it bigger than ever before, because of Mom.”

On the way to the grocery store, Nicole told Chloe about the journal – and about the last entry their mother wrote. “It got me thinking, Chloe. Mom had 61 Thanksgivings in her life. Only 61. How many will I have? How many will you have? Can we really afford to skip even one?”

Chloe, dumbfounded, said “I hadn’t thought about it that way…but I remember when Granny died and Mom was so brokenhearted. She didn’t deprive us of Thanksgiving that year. She kind of went overboard. Come to think of it, that was one of the happiest days of my life.”

“Exactly”, said Nicole. “She knew it mattered to us. More importantly, she knew Granny would not want her to stop being thankful.” 

In the store, each sister grabbed a cart and they took off, grabbing ingredients for pumpkin pie, dressing, potatoes, fresh corn on the cob, pecans, flour for crusts, and all of the other items they could remember without a list – including a big, plump turkey.

That year, their theme would be “Give more, Love harder,” and as they prepared the feast, they laughed at their competitiveness, each trying to out-cook the other. They unpacked Maria’s fine china and decorated the family table like their Mom would have done. They invited a few neighbors who had no family nearby. They put Maria’s beautiful handmade Thanksgiving wreath on the door; and together with their children, they carried on their mother’s legacy of love.

The DeFuniak Herald-Breeze remembers all of the community members we have lost due to the pandemic, and we grieve with those of you who grieve. We hope you find reasons to gather together this Thanksgiving, and carry on those long-held traditions and legacies of love.