This Thanksgiving I received a birthday card from my grandmother. That’s not unusual — my birthday falls right before Thanksgiving, so my family traditionally celebrates my birthday over the holiday.
The card is printed on thin paper, with a quote from the Old Testament inside. It’s the sort of card they send you as thanks for donating money to a religious organization. Inside is a short handwritten note about how she isn’t sending me a birthday present because she will see me soon, over Christmas, and then I’ll get an extra big present because it will be for both Christmas and my birthday. It’s the same birthday card, with minor variations, that I’ve been receiving from my Grandmother every Thanksgiving for as long as I can remember. What makes this particular card different is that Grandma died six months ago.
Last year, my grandmother added the card to a package my sister had planned on mailing for my birthday. In the commotion of the holidays, my sister forgot to mail the package. She recently re-discovered the card, and she delivered it, a year late. Inside the card reads “Hope your birthday brings you many special blessings!” At the time, Grandma couldn’t have known what a blessing her card would be.
Grandma’s death was quick and unexpected. For a few weeks after her death, I couldn’t eat. I felt sick all the time. I tried not to think about her because it was too sad. But after a while, I didn’t have to try to not think about her, I just didn’t think about her very much. As I read the card, I cried for Grandma for the first time in months. But it was not with the anguish, the physically pain, which accompanied her death. These were sad, mournful, but bearable tears. And after I cried, I remembered her life and her love for her family, and smiled.
Grandma was a devout Catholic. She believed that if she led a good life, she’d spend eternity with Jesus. I don’t know if I believe that. But I know what I do believe. It’s cliched. You’ve heard it a thousand times. But I’m going to say it anyway, because it’s too easy to forget, especially in all the celebrating, shopping, cooking, eating, traveling, and general hustle and bustle that accompany the holidays. And it’s something that Grandma never forgot. So here it is: I believe that the people we love are the greatest blessing of all.
And Grandma, if you are up there, yucking it up with John Paul II, I want you to know that Thanksgiving isn’t the same without your mashed potatoes. And I miss you.
Meghan Guinnee lives in Buffalo, N.Y., where she co-founded a grant writing and program evaluation company working with non-profit organizations. Meghan and her husband hope to adopt their three foster children and spend many Thanksgivings together as a family.