Thanksgiving isn’t one of my favorite holidays. It has nothing to do with gorging on turkey and going into a food coma or being forced to cover football and/or basketball games while lots of other people get a mini-vacation from their jobs. My misgivings about Thanksgiving can be traced to the absence of my Mom.
This week marks the 15th anniversary of my mother’s death. She passed away on November 20, 2003 after a grueling two-year battle with cancer. Thanksgiving fell exactly a week later that year and Mom’s death cast a shadow over the holiday for me that really has never fled away. It’s hard to get excited about a time on the calendar that is forever tied to mourning and grief over the death of the woman who gave you life.
You never really get over the death of a parent, no matter how much time eventually separates you from the event. 15 years later, I feel an extra twinge of sadness.
My Mom was the first audience for my fiction. When I wrote my first stories, I would eagerly hand off the finished rough draft for her to read. Mom loved books. She read all the time and instilled a love of reading in her children. And she loved my stories. It wasn’t just a parent humoring their child type of love. She genuinely thought they were well-written and couldn’t wait to read each new one. As her physical strength and mobility diminished, I would read my stories to her in her sickbed. In a way, we had come full circle back to the time she read to me as a child.
During her final year, in the midst of her unsuccessful cancer battle, a couple of friends from church came to visit Mom while she was back at home following a chemotherapy session. Their conversation turned to my writing as those visitors asked how her kids were doing. I was up visiting on a break from my college classes at the time, so I happened to overhear their conversation from the other room.
Mom mentioned how I was writing short stories and poems and brought them to her to read when I was finished. She told her friends something I’ll never forget even when my hair has grayed with age. Mom said that day, “Many people talk about writing the next great American novel, but John will actually do it.”
I was floored by the compliment. Mom truly believed in me and was my biggest champion in pursuing my dreams of being an author. Unfortunately, she never lived long enough to see those dreams realized. Cancer robbed me of her presence and her light. I feel a little deeper sadness this Thanksgiving because Mom would have been so thrilled to read Pandora Reborn and see me finally realize a lifelong goal. She would have encouraged everyone she knew to buy a copy and would have talked my book up to friends and family and neighbors alike. Mom’s reaction to my story alone would have been worth the journey.
Five years ago, I composed a poem expressing what she meant to me. It still resonates as deeply with me now.
Sunlight seems invisible
until you’re trapped in a dark room
Water only becomes vital
when you feel the sweat on your brow
So it is with a mother
She remains hidden in the background
Until we remember
why we need her presence.
She calms our fears
Encourages us to pursue a dream
Wipes away our tears.
Reminds us she is on our team
Nothing replaces the special bond
Between a child and a mom.
She is our champion
She is a comforter and a friend.
Life’s greatest trials
nor death’s cruel hand
can obscure that simple truth
or bring a mother’s influence to an end.
Time can never erase the positive impact that my Mom continues to have on my life even 15 years later. She always stood alone as my no. 1 supporter in pursuing my dreams. Every story that I bring to life can be traced to her encouragement and love. I hope that my life and my stories can always honor her memory.