thanksgiving, unexpectedly

mom maria

Through marriage, I gained a second Thanksgiving. My favourite holiday. A day to quietly ponder my gratitude for this happy life I’ve co-created with so many people whom I love and who love me.

On Thanksgiving, my mom was admitted to the hospital in Toronto, for an indefinite time, for an indefinite prognosis. So many unknowns.

On Thanksgiving, my mom was admitted to the same hospital in Toronto where I spent so much of the first half of my senior year. Seven Thanksgivings ago. Afraid of what might be ahead and so grateful when she was okay.

As I sat in Austin’s arms on Thanksgiving morning, weeping into my breakfast eggs, I told him about seven years ago and the sadness and the difficultly that he’s never known. I’ve told Austin about seven years ago many, many times, as a hypothetical, as something he hasn’t lived through, but some day he likely would. Of my lovely mom who he’s only ever known sick, fully herself in spirit and mind in a body that isn’t quite her own.

When uncertainty hangs heavy, there’s a temptation to recede into sadness, to ask why my mom, the very best mom, of all moms, has been dealt this lot? Of course, I ask this question often, usually in my head, to the ceiling, before I sleep.

But thanksgiving in the best sense of the word offers an opportunity to reflect versus recede, to be hopeful instead of overcome. It is a day to give thanks for the kindness that comes even (especially) in difficult times.

I am thankful as I remember my university housemate, C. When she learned my mom was sick, she gave me the keys to her Toronto condo without hesitation. She offered me a place of rest after long days at the hospital and the solo subway commutes to Sheppard Station with Anna Nalick blaring in my ears on repeat (to this day, that song makes me reel). Those days would teach me to navigate an unknown city, Toronto, that I would one day call home. C should have been selfish in her own sadness — she lost her beautiful mom to cancer when we were in second year university. But she was only kind.

I am thankful for my dad, my impossible hero and 401 warrior, who drove between Windsor and Toronto (a 4-hour drive) multiple times a week to be with mom while running a business and caring for my little sisters. It takes a certain kind of man to treat an eight hour commute as norm, but such is his love for my mom. I was reminded again Thanksgiving eve, as dad raced mom to Toronto for her hospital admission, then turned back to Windsor to take care of life’s necessities. My dad has not known normal in a very long time, but he’s never wavered.

I am thankful for my Toronto blood: Austin, Niki and Myles. Thankful that mom has — for the first time — four kids in her adopted hospital city to keep her company and help one-another stumble through. Thankful for my selfless husband who spends his days off hanging out with mom, chatting for hours, bringing library books and tea, and making laps around floor 5 holding her hand.

I am thankful for my sweet colleague L, who closed the kitchen door and grabbed me at the water cooler on Thanksgiving morning and held me and just listened when I quietly broke down about all of this, when I couldn’t compartmentalize, when, for a moment, I lost my business face.

I am thankful for the kind people who ask over and again about mom’s health, and never tire when I offer an honest answer. When mom was first sick, I would do a good job pretending. I would give the expected response: “she’s okay.” But that answer is unhelpful to us all. So I tell the truth. Sometimes mom is more okay and sometimes she’s less okay and sometimes she’s not okay at all. I appreciate every person who asks and I appreciate their kindness (sometimes through discomfort) as they hear the truth.

Having a sick parent is the worst thing. As much as you grow through difficult times, and oh, how you grow — patience grows, love grows, humility grows — certainly, we become better — it does not make this all easier. It is never easier. Still I try to find that silver lining, to wrap myself within, to keep keeping on.

This Thanksgiving did not offer turkey or football or pumpkin pie or grand festivity. But it was still full of reasons to reflect, to be grateful, to surrender in thanks.

[photo credit: A. Eleni Pontikis]

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