Transforming loss into gratitude this Thanksgiving

This is my first Thanksgiving without my mom but as the holiday approaches I feel such gratitude — not only because she was a wonderful mother but because of how I believe she’s doing right now.

As I’ve mentioned here before, my mom’s last couple of years weren’t her best. She would tell me all the time that she just didn’t feel like herself.

As it turned out, some of that may have been because her cancer had returned, even though none of her tests had shown it. But it was more than that; my mom didn’t feel like the person she’d been all her life.

Anxious days, restless nights

Her resilience, humour, even her faith, seemed to have deserted her. In their wake were anxious days and restless nights full of worry and fear.

That is not to say that my mom didn’t experience moments of joy with family or friends, but something in behind that temporary happiness, was missing.

After I returned home from her memorial service, I thought about how upset she’d been and I prayed that she was feeling better.

Then one night as I was doing that, I had a very strong sense of her calm, secure and confident presence. I knew that she was content and happy. The stress of the last few years had evaporated.

Temagami Trail, c. M. Romig Dawson (my mom) pastel, 1997

It seems incorrect to call this my first Thanksgiving without my mom because in some ways it doesn’t seem like she’s gone. It seems like she moved and lives somewhere else, some place I can’t reach by phone.

But I know she’s fine and that’s why I’m grateful. My mom is herself again.

In fact, that is the idea that drives BrattyKathy — to really live is to be fully yourself, no fear, no apologies, no holding back.

Happy Thanksgiving, Mom.

c 2014 Kathy Barthel

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Send me a sign, Mom

Several years ago I decided to plant my first flower garden and my mom wanted to give me some gladiolus bulbs.  My late grandmother in her typically droll way said, “You’d better tell her which end is up.” My mom was stunned and said that of course, I would know that.

But my grandmother was right; I had no idea that I was supposed to plant them with the pointy end up. My gladiolus would have been blooming “all the way down to China”, or more accurately, into the Indian Ocean.

My mom passed away a couple of weeks ago so she and my grandmother are together again. I can imagine the conversation shortly after she arrived. “I want to send Kathy a sign that I’m OK,” she’d say to my grandmother.

Is it a fly?

A few days after my mom died I was sitting with my dad in his favourite coffee shop when a green (my mom’s favourite colour) fly appeared on my left hand. Its tiny torso shone like a water droplet on a green leaf. I noticed how beautiful it was but a moment later, I smucked it. Gone. Not a trace of fly to be seen. Then I thought, “Oh! Was that a sign?”

Up in heaven my grandmother was saying, “Don’t send Kathy another bug”.

Is it a bird?

My parents’ house is on the bank of a river. I stayed there with my dad for several days after my mom’s passing. One day my brother mentioned the Canada birds he’d heard. I had no idea which ones they were but once he pointed out the sound, I realized I’d been hearing them constantly, especially outside the bathroom window in the early morning. They were one of my mom’s favourite birds, but if they were a sign I almost missed them.

Green hangers 598 px W x 298 px H Greener

It’s a hanger!

On our first visit to the funeral home to make the arrangements, my dad and I took a look around. As we walked through the main entryway, I saw long closets on either side of us. Hanging from each one were rows and rows of big, green, plastic hangers. In most public places, especially a funeral home, you would expect to see stately wooden hangers or sleek, brushed steel, but here were all these green ones. “It’s a sign!” I said to my dad. “Mom would love these!”

It was a sign that this was the right place, that our plans to honour my mom here would work out just fine, with lots of love and lots of green.

c 2013 Kathy Barthel