Thanksgiving – filled with an abundance of family, food, faith, fun, and friends – has always been one of my favorite holidays.
As a child, I remember going to my maternal grandparents’ home in Lexington. All my aunts, uncles, and cousins were there. We’d all gather around the table with lots of delectable food and interesting conversation. Uncle Lawrence, one of the most respected organ designers and builders in the world, taught me an important lesson: instead of trying to decide which kind of pie I wanted, I could ask for a little piece of all three to enjoy. After dinner, we’d all take a big family walk along the country road together.
Other memories of Thanksgiving are bittersweet. When I was in sixth grade, instead of going to my grandparents’ home, we went to the hospital to see my mother – Muriel Phelps Braverman. My brother, sister, and I had not seen her since she suffered a stroke two months earlier. The doctor told her, if she lived, she would never have the use of her right side or be able to speak clearly again. She was also told she’d have a better chance of surviving if she terminated her pregnancy.
My mom, who was a quiet, shy and incredibly strong woman, knew about making hard choices and self-sacrifice. She met my dad, Lawrence Braverman, in the early 1950s. She was a concert pianist and a dancer. Just after she won an audition to be a dancer with the famed Rockettes, my dad proposed to her. She gave up dancing, opting for a role as a wife and mother with a career as a homemaker. Now she was fighting for her life and her unborn child, hoping to return home to be with her family.
Leaving my mom in the hospital on that Thanksgiving Day in 1965 was heartbreaking. We didn’t know if or when we would ever see her again.
Two days before Christmas we got the surprise of our life – she came home. Her presence was the best Christmas present I could have received. It taught me that the best gifts are not the ones that come wrapped in packages and bows under a tree; the best gifts are the precious moments that we share with one another making memories. Two months later, on the day after Valentine’s Day, we got another gift – my youngest brother was born.
Over time and with lots of hard work and determination, she regained the use of her right arm and leg and she spoke very well. Outside of a slight limp, no one would ever know she suffered a stroke. Even her doctor said it was a miracle.
Throughout the years, my parent’s best friends were Ken (he was a Bedford Department of Public Works superintendent) and Marion Pedersen. In 1986, my father (he served as a Selectman among other various roles in Bedford) died, and in 1987, Ken’s wife also passed away. After a while, Ken and my mom decided to start “dating” and eventually married. Their years together were perhaps the happiest ones my mom had enjoyed for a long time.
Then life changed again a week before Thanksgiving in 2006. My mom went to the doctor for what she thought was a severe cold. She was admitted to the hospital with a diagnosis of stage four ovarian cancer, terminal. Her doctor said treatment, including chemo, might get her a few more years.
A few hours later when I went to her hospital room, she and Ken were discussing what to do with their pre-ordered Thanksgiving dinner. It was their tradition to enjoy a quiet dinner at home giving thanks for each other and all that they had in life.
I don’t believe that most people who just learned they have terminal cancer would be discussing what to do with a Thanksgiving dinner – it was quite the conversation. They could have easily called, explained the situation, and canceled the order. Instead, they decided to donate the dinner to a shelter for abused women and their children. Seeing my mom and Ken more concerned about the welfare of others at this most difficult time was amazing; it shined a light on their true character. Once again, my mom was quietly teaching me life lessons.
After one chemo treatment – one that caused painful blisters in her mouth – she decided that the pain and agony would far outweigh the diminished quality of a shortened life span. She was ready to move on, although the rest of us were not prepared for that to happen. She was transferred to a hospice room at the hospital.
It was hard to feel very thankful on Thanksgiving that year. It was a dark time, a period of sadness and anguish, waiting for the ending we all knew was coming. We were told: “any day now, no later than a week.” They clearly didn’t know my mom. She wouldn’t surrender until she was ready to do so. That moment came on Dec. 7.
Although I miss her dearly, I believe that she is at peace and I find comfort in that.
Each year when the season of Thanksgiving rolls around, I take pause and reflect on the myriad of treasured memories that I have experienced throughout my life. I don’t load up plates with three pieces of pie anymore. I have something better to feast on – a heart filled with gratitude for my mom and all the people I’ve known and who I share this life with.
For me, Thanksgiving is really a time to give thanks for each day; it’s a reminder to live with an “attitude of gratitude” for all I have experienced and will experience on my life journey.
I wish for you a very happy season of giving and receiving thanks. May your Thanksgivings be filled with an abundance of family, food, fun, and friends – and maybe, if you really want it, three pieces of Thanksgiving pie.