The Last Thanksgiving (from the archive)

The Last Thanksgiving

Current mood:thankful

This time of year brings back very good and very bad memories for me. I try to concentrate on the good. Sometimes the bad just creeps in like horrible background music at an otherwise pleasant brunch.

Thanksgiving that year was supposed to be spent at the home of my then-husband’s employer. He was in the radio industry and announcers at that particular radio station were close friends. He acted as if there was an unwritten rule that if the boss invites you to his second home in western Massachusetts, you went. There was no such rule.
But this was to be our son’s last Thanksgiving. I was sure of it.
Our son, who for the year since his first Thanksgiving struggled with the basic functions of living, was not doing well. MRI reports showed that the disease we were told he had when he was two months of age was getting worse.
I insisted that we stay home. Our once beautuful but now crowded apartment would be safer for Jamie than the two hour car ride and cold, lake front house. To that my then-husband said, “Just because his life is ending does not mean mine is.”
I stayed home (after some tears) and he left. I invited my sister and friend Flo to come spend the day with us. I made a turkey and we took turns taking care of Jamie. A nurse who was scheduled to come bailed out on us but we didn’t mind. Another nurse who cared about Jamie stopped by our little Boston condo to say “Happy Thanksgiving” to him and give him a kiss.
He had just gotten over a respiratory infection. He was actually feeling a little better that day. We sang to him, held him and read to him, in between suctioning and respiratory therapy.
I said a prayer. I thanked God that I got to be with him that day and that his eyes were open and he was responsive.
The few days that followed were not so good. He was increasingly fussy and restless and his respirations were different. Jamie perked up immediately when his father finally came home that Sunday. Jamie was 15 months old and had distinct preferences in the people around him. He missed his Dad. His father’s voice always made him look or smile, when he did smile.
I don’t know how I hid my hurt or resentment but I just did. I knew something was wrong. Nobody ever believed my instincts before my son was born but it was different now. My instincts were always right and nobody wanted me to be right, and I can’t blame them. My son was living his last days on earth. I knew it. If Jamie’s father had believed me and not dismissed me as ‘melodramatic” he would have been there, with his wife and son, saying thank you to God for the blessings we had and spending 4 precious days with his son. I knew he would be sorry for going to his boss’ house. My friends told me that I am not responsible for his actions and what were to be his regrets. Still, I felt to blame.
Jamie died 4 days later.
Thanksgiving has never been the same since. I still thank God for my blessings but this time of year cuts through me like the cold Boston wind off of the harbor. I miss him. That was one of the two best Thankgivings I ever had because I had my son with me.

Now, the chill wind reminds me of funeral flowers and burying my 15 month old child in warm clothes in the hard earth of Westview Cemetery in my hometown of Lexington. I try to think of all of the fun I had with him but November will always bring memories of the kindness of strangers, the tears, the loss. Going home the night of his memorial service and crying like babies, my husband and I, next to the empty crib.

It is many years into forever and I still remember every inch of him. His beautiful blue eyes, his golden hair. His voice is always with me. And for that, regardless of the pain, I am thankful.

Happiness Loves Company, Too

Nobody started at my baby with a tortured face. I had to count my blessings. I smiled because I had him 15 months and three weeks, while there are many who don’t get that long and some who couldn’t bear children at all. So, I smiled. I cried later. “I had the rest of my life to cry, why make my baby boy upset?” I told myself. I still cry as I wander this world without him, but I laugh more than I cry now.

People have asked me, over the last 20 years how I get up in the morning while knowing that my child is dead and I can’t have any more. They expect me to be some sort of zombie or in a mental hospital. My answer to them is that I just try to make the most of my life here on Earth because my son was robbed of that opportunity. It would be an insult to his memory to not be grateful for every minute I have here, so being bitter and miserable is not an option. Poisoning my body with drugs or alcohol has never been an option in my life. I have little patience for people who do that and oddly, most of the people I knew who did that had a lot less of reason to do so than I would.Some people have asked me how I manage to be cheerful. I even had a boss of mine ask me not to be so cheerful in the morning as I was bringing him his coffee. He was a miserable, cranky, negative person but he wasn’t going to take me down with him. I kept smiling, and got a better job. Life is too short to be around people who can’t deal with cheerfulness. There is enough misery in the world. Why spread it around?It’s easy to be cheerful if you count your blessings.I learned how to count my blessings and deal with what life gives us with grace and dignity from my late Uncle, Billy Petrino. A detective for the Town of Lexington Police Department in Lexington, Massachusetts, he had a unique approach to life and work that I have tried to adopt. He died at age 56 of cancer. He worked up until a month before he died. He never lost his hair so he looked a little skinnier but he just kept going. That in and of itself was amazing and admirable.What I took away from my many talks with him was that one of the worst things one can do to another is to assume you know all about them. To think you know everything they possibly could possibly say about a subject and act bored. That kind of prejudice is corrosive. Keeping your mind and heart open to people, regardless of YOUR OWN past experiences is difficult but key to loving people the way God wants us to love.My dear uncle Billy told me that the reason he did his job so well is because he treated every one who stood in front of him as if they were his only case. As a detective, he dealt with the families of murder victims as well as people who were locked out of their car. Treating them both with the same amount of respect and patience was his key to success. The attitude that the person locked out of their car, while lucky they aren’t the family of a murder victim, still had a problem that deserved his full attention won him awards and commendations. He was just keeping his heart and mind open. He was keeping cynicism away and a smile on his face. I try to follow his example. It isn’t easy.My dad, from the time I was able to comprehend speech, told me to “count my blessings.” He told me at Christmas that there were people who had nothing and to remember how fortunate we were to have what we had. He told me that there were kids who were deaf or blind, or couldn’t walk or were in Children’s Hospital fighting cancer and to “thank God that I am healthy.”When I complained about never going anywhere in the summers, he told me to be grateful that I had a fenced-in yard with a pool because lot of kids without a yard to play in at all. When I complained that I wasn’t thin enough or tall enough, he told me I should consider myself lucky that I didn’t have a big weight problem or horrible acne, etc.. Dad ALWAYS had a answer for why I shouldn’t be complaining. Bless him.Sure, Dad’s approach flew in the face of my uncle’s (his brother) approach to life. He minimized whatever I was going through by comparing me to people going through “real problems” but he was partially right. Things can always be worse and that way of thinking has really helped me through some dark periods.Thinking “it could always be worse,” I smiled when I had a baby who was suffering from a fatal illness because he was able to be held without pain. There was a mom in my support group whose baby was in so much pain she screamed at the slightest touch, regardless of the methadone they gave her for the pain.I smiled because my baby while possessing the course facial features that are hallmarks of his disease, was still cute and cuddly and not severely deformed like the little baby in the waiting room next to us, whose skull was not fused properly at birth for some reason and whose eyes were not in the right place.Nobody started at my baby with a tortured face. I had to count my blessings. I smiled because I had him 15 months and three weeks, while there are many who don’t get that long and some who couldn’t bear children at all. So, I smiled. I cried later. “I had the rest of my life to cry, why make my baby boy upset?” I told myself. I still cry as I wander this world without him, but I laugh more than I cry now.I just kept smiling and dealing with the blows of life with a “things could be worse” attitude. Thinking of Uncle Bill, I wring happiness out of whatever situation life throws my way. Sometimes it is hard to find the happiness and blessings in certain situations but it is always there.I am still smiling because I can see, hear and think. I can smell the flowers in the summer, the crisp autumn air and the Christmasy snow smell in December. I can see the delight on my husband’s face when he sees that the dog has learned a new trick or when he has put the finishing touches one of his wonderful, homemade soul food recipes. I hear my beautiful friend Tanya’s voice on the phone, her adorable son cooing in the background. I can see and hear my mom, sister and wonderful niece on Skype. My sister and niece do artwork that I can enjoy and my mom knits me scarves and blankets, though she is legally blind. I can behold my precious sister Lauren and her culinary feats. The list of things for which to be happy goes on and on.

Shockingly, this approach really makes some people really sick.

People roll their eyes at me. They say I am too cheerful. One malcontent said she can’t bear to hear me talk. Some have even said things so hurtful that I cannot repeat them because it just spreads pain. This has been said to my face by people who are just rude and behind my back–conveyed to me by people who thought they were doing me a favor. Those people are not in my life anymore.People who are powered by negativity and cynicism tend to be especially prone to what I call, “happyphobia.”Happyphobia is the inability to be around people who have a good attitude. It is as if your happiness contributes to their misery. It a zero sum game to them. It is a horrible way to be, I’m sure. I find myself being empathetic and imagining how awful it is to be misanthropic and negative all of the time.To them, I say, “Smile.” Life is too short to waste it on being miserable. If you frown and are negative, you will only get more negativity. If you smile, count your blessings and think of the happiness in any situation, you will get more blessings and at the very least, a lot more peace.