The “firsts” after a loved one’s death are especially hard. The first Mother’s or Father’s Day without them; their first birthday in Heaven; the first Thanksgiving and Christmas when an empty chair reminds us of how much we miss them.
My first Thanksgiving without my mother was both sad and sweet.
Of her four children, I am the only one who lives away from home . . . several states away. Since my husband Bill and I had moved to his home state of Georgia, we had not been back home to Oklahoma for a single Thanksgiving and had visited for Christmas only once.
It had been twenty-one years since I had sat around Mom’s dining table with her and Dad and all my family for a Thanksgiving feast. The two extra leaves of the table had been added, and it was loaded down with turkey, Mom’s delicious dressing, cranberry sauce, candied sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, green bean casserole, salad, buttered hot rolls, pies . . . you get the idea. At the time, I had no idea it would be the last time I would ever share a Thanksgiving feast with my entire family. I was twenty-two years old.
Although it had been years since I had actually celebrated Thanksgiving in Mom’s presence, we always talked on the phone on Thanksgiving Day. This was the first Thanksgiving without Mom on planet earth. Her first Thanksgiving in Heaven.
Mom’s birthday was November 16th. She would have been sixty-five. She died suddenly on November 11th. So, we experienced a “first” right away . . . her first birthday without her.
The days before and during the funeral were surreal. Everything had happened so quickly. Mom was at work when an aneurysm burst in her brain. She was here . . . and then she was gone. My sisters and brother kept her on the ventilator until I could race home and say goodbye to her. She was laid to rest next to Daddy who had died four years earlier. How we missed her! But what a comfort it was to know that she was Home at last with her Savior Jesus Christ and with a host of loved ones to welcome her Home.
As we gathered around Mom’s table after her funeral, my younger sister said, “Let’s have an early Thanksgiving together before Karen has to go home.” What a sweet idea! As we gathered together for a Thanksgiving feast of turkey and Mom’s dressing with all the tasty dishes to go with it, it was sad that Mom’s chair was empty. But it was so sweet to sit down with my brother and sisters and their families to celebrate Thanksgiving together once again after all those years. Mom and Dad were very much a part of it, because we carried them in our hearts.
Several days later, it was time to go home to Georgia. My siblings and I had picked out things of Mom’s that we wanted to keep. Bill and I rented a small u-haul truck, because among the items that I was taking home with me was Mom’s dining room suite . . . table and chairs, china cabinet, and tea table. How many Thanksgiving feasts our own family has enjoyed around Mom’s table through the years with our three sons, our daughter-in-law, our three grandchildren, and the occasional special guest!
I often think of an 8 mm movie Dad took of Mom soon after they bought their new dining room set around fifty years ago. She was polishing the table and rubbing it until it shined. That was a regular Saturday morning chore. I love that film, because Mom looked so proud of her new table.
I’ve thought about getting a more modern dining room set at times, but I always change my mind. Mom’s table has too many wonderful memories of the Harper family sitting around it and enjoying a meal together. And Bill and I have made our own memories with our own family.
One day, one of my sons may choose to keep the old dining room set and make new memories with family and friends. I hope so. Bill’s and my chair might be empty, but then I trust our kids will carry us in their hearts.