It was gray and damp, that Thanksgiving Day in 2001, but the weather didn’t matter. It was the day my husband proposed to me, in the middle of a hike, right before a big family dinner. I was sitting on a log and he knelt down in the dirt and produced a ring. I, in turn, produced incoherent babbles of surprise and joy.
We headed from the hike to my parents’ house, where we called Scott’s family and had the fun of sharing our euphoria with them. Ever since, Thanksgiving has had a warm place in my heart. It was a day when I had something new to be thankful for, a day when Scott’s family first became part of mine.
This year, Thanksgiving will have a different feel. Over the holiday weekend, we’ll be having a funeral Mass for Scott’s mother Joan. Her death was a surprise; though she was having some health issues, she was still active and vibrant. No one expected the sudden seizure, the ten days in the ICU, the lungs that finally gave way.
Her death has given me so many things to ponder. Not just the reality of death, or the nature of heaven, though those have been very much on my mind. Rather, it makes me think about how we can honor the people we love and have lost.
And Joan was eminently lovable. She was a strong woman, but it was a gentle strength, a solid core clothed in kindness and graciousness. She donated so much time to her community; her volunteer work kept her busy, but not too busy to write thoughtful handwritten cards to family and friends. From the first time I met her, she welcomed me with such warmth, making me feel instantly at home.
And I miss her. Though our homes were far apart and our visits were not as frequent as any of us wished, she was so much a part of our summers and holidays. The album of my memory is full of snapshots: Joan playing badminton with her grandsons, Joan laughing over a funny story about the boys, Joan humming as she cooked dinner in our kitchen weeks after my oldest son was born. I remember that last memory with such fondness. Joan was so happy to be there, visiting her new grandson, and the soup she made was a tangible expression of her love. Taking care of others was something she did very, very well.
When I think about how to honor Joan, how best to show her that I love and miss her, the answer is clear: I can honor her by loving her son, by being the most supportive wife I can be. As a mom myself, I know that there is no dearer wish for a mother than to see her son end up with someone who thinks he is the cat’s meow. I think I do a decent job of showing Scott how much I love him, but the daily stresses of life can sometimes make me snappish and self-absorbed. That’s something I’d like to change.
Because the guy who proposed to me on Thanksgiving thirteen years ago is the guy I would choose all over again, in a heartbeat. As the holiday comes around once again, I realize that I am deeply grateful to the woman who raised him and made him the man he is. Though I miss her, some of her best qualities live on in him.
And all this points to a simple, beautiful truth: The best way to say thank you is to love, and to love completely.