“Remind Me Again…” (Thanksgiving 2022)

“Now…remind me again….which of the Beatles are still alive?”

“Paul and Ringo, Mom.”

It is Thanksgiving Day, one year ago tomorrow. We are at our family’s Lakehouse, and we are watching Peter Jackson’s “Get Back” documentary which has just dropped for streaming that very day.

More accurately, *I* am watching the documentary, and the rest of my family is tolerating it in levels of interest ranging from mild engagement to polite indifference. I’m watching it because…well, it was freaking awesome.

But as the show goes on, Mom asks again…

“Now…remind me again….which of the Beatles are still alive?”

“Paul and Ringo, Mom.”

And then, about an hour after this…

“Now…remind me again….which of the Beatles are still alive?”

“Paul and Ringo, Mom.”

And finally, one more time about an hour later.

Within 2-3 hours that day, she sits down to watch the show for a moment. She stands up to do other things. But she asks this exact same question, in exactly the same way, four times.

“Now…remind me again….which of the Beatles are still alive?”

“Paul and Ringo, Mom.”

Somewhere between the third and forth repetition, the adults in the room —Dennise, Maria, my Sister— shoot each other a worried glance.

In the weeks following Christmas, it would become clear what that glance feared: that Mom has dementia issues. A few weeks after that, a large mass in her colon would be discovered. Almost eight months to the day after her repeated questions about the Fab Four, Mom would be gone.

It’s now almost exactly a year later, and all this comes replaying back to my brain. It feels like those weeks following these questions simultaneously moved in slow motion, and also raced by.

For the first few months, I beat myself up about not noticing these signs; not acting sooner, not jumping into high gear to get my Mom checked out.

Specifically, it was this very set of questions —this moment one year ago— that wouldn’t let me go.

I’d be in bed, trying to fall asleep, and I’d hear…

“Now…remind me again….which of the Beatles are still alive?”

“Paul and Ringo, Mom.”

And I’d ask myself, “How did I…how did we…not see in that moment?! Why didn’t I do more?”

Part of the answer is that my Mom was always expert at changing the subject away from her. The reality is that, now and then, we all *would* ask about what seemed to be lapses in memory.

And sometimes, she would shoot back with some quip about how she was in her mid-80s, and how memory issues just happen when you’re that age.

OK, fair enough, actually.

That said, among the myriad of competing voices in my head, some comforting, some scolding; this “why didn’t I see this?” question still haunts me from time to time. Especially late at night, when I’m tired, or sad, or melancholy; and painful memories and voices decide to pay a call.

But as cancer also raced through her body, I also began to be able to look back with more realism.

Already, in the moment these Beatles questions were first asked, it was very likely that the final outcome was already fixed.

I just didn’t know it. None of us did.

All that was left was for us to catch up to that horrible truth.

For years —on this very day I am writing these words— our family would gather from across the state, to head to our family Lakehouse. In one configuration or another, some part of our family has been there almost every year.

This year, no one will be there. That house will be silent, and I can only assume we will all be gathering with our individual families.

The Lakehouse, Last Thanksgiving
The Forest @ Our Lakehouse, Last Thanksgiving

This, it seems to me, is as it should be. It’s likely time for some new traditions. I can only speak for myself and say, being at the Lakehouse tomorrow would just be too painful.

In the midst of all I’ve here described, I know this…

Somewhere in the midst of the competing voices in my head, is a comforting voice of God. It’s a voice that speaks to me the words of grace I have spoken to grieving people for more than thirty years now.

“Grief is like waves in the ocean,” God says, “sometimes a big one just comes out of nowhere and slaps you in the chest…and that’s just how grief works…”

“Holidays tend to be hard. Memories, traditions, joys and sorrows, come back in those waves, unbidden. And the only way through them…is through them…”

It’s been a very hard year. The only “normal” feeling weeks for me have been these past few precious weeks of September/October. After the sheer exhaustion of Spring/Summer, I celebrated my 60th Birthday, and have enjoyed many “normal in-person” events. Now and then this Fall, it almost felt like normal life is returning. Now and then the grief even recedes for a few precious days.

But the pace lately is also exhausting, too. I’m definitely out of practice, being back “in the world.” Even without my grief about Mom, this journey to some kind of “new normal” is not fun. And, as I have known for years, after a loss “holidays are hard.”

Tomorrow, we’ll gather with Dennise’s family, at our house, for a big Thanksgiving Day meal. We’ve done this before with them, but never on the actual day. There will be kids, and family, and laughter. Maybe it’s the beginning of another long tradition. Maybe it’s just what we’re doing this year.

Who knows?

Who can ever truly say when something good, or something bad, starts?

On that first Lakehouse Thanksgiving, we probably never envisioned we were starting a 25-year tradition.

A year ago tomorrow, I never imagined what the question “which of the Beatles are still alive?” would reveal about the months to come.

Frederick Buechner writes extensively about how out of seeming random life-events, meaning gradually emerges.

“You get married, a child is born or not born, in the middle of the night there is a knocking at the door, on the way home through the park you see a man feeding pigeons, all the tests come in negative and the doctor gives you back your life again: incident follows incident helter-skelter leading apparently nowhere, but then once in a while there is the suggestion of purpose, meaning, direction, the suggestion of plot, the suggestion that, however clumsily, your life is trying to tell you something, take you somewhere.

Or random sounds: the clock’s tick-tock, voices outside the window, footsteps on the stair, a bird singing, and then just for a moment a hint of melody.”

So, tomorrow, I will simply listen for the “suggestions of a plot;” the suggestion that life is taking me somewhere.

I give thanks for my Sisters and their families, and my deep and continuing gratitude toward them.

I’ll be giving thanks for Dennise, Maria, and the big Familia Garcia.

I’ll be giving thanks for the grace and patience of so many friends, and our Church, who have not only tolerated, but genuinely showed-up, and allowed me space for the awkward journey of this year.

I’ll be trusting in moments of grace, beauty, hope —trusting that moments of gratitude will well up— in the midst of what will likely still be a deep seasonal sorrow.

I’ll be thinking about many more of you, out in this big world, walking through your own moments and seasons of grief, and looking for the meaning and hope in them. As we continue to to recover from the pandemic, and from the losses it brought to us, many of you will have your own similar stories to these I’ve just shared. If so, I share these to remind you that you are not alone.

In fact, I know of a family dear to me, whose own patriarch is in the hospital today. (I’ll be heading to see them in a moment…) Instead of a big “home gathering” this family expected this year —flying in from around the country— they’ll gather around in hospital waiting area, and the fold-out couch beside beeping machines and IV bags.

Sooner or later, we all have holidays like this. This the way of life.

If the past year has taught me anything, it’s that it’s possible to find moments of peace and gratitude, even in the midst of trying times like these; by focusing on my gratitude and paying attention to the small graces as they come.

So, my prayer for you this Thanksgiving is: Whether you continue blessed family traditions, whether this year has thrown you curves you did not expect, may you find moments of peace and gratitude this Thanksgiving.

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