Thinking of the Less Fortunate on Thanksgiving

My mother called from South Africa with devastating news.

One of my younger cousins, who I remember so well as a slender smiling four-year-old, committed suicide.

She hanged herself last Thursday.

She was thirty-two years old.

I think I may have laughed. Oh god, I did laugh. My mother’s words were so unbelievable that I couldn’t understand what she was saying. L was dead. How could that be possible?

I laughed the way my brother laughed when I was nine and he was seventeen. Jeremy was sitting on the front stoop of the house he rented in California. We drove up in the car, my mother wearing a headscarf and lipstick, looking beautiful, like Susan Sarandon in “Bull Durham.”

“Nicky and I are getting a divorce,” she blurted out before she even said hello. I remember her elbow resting on the top of the car door, protruding like something obscene out the rolled-down window.

“No way,” my brother said. His laughter was nervous and completely without mirth. I’ve never forgotten the staccato sound of it. I’ve never forgiven him.

One Thanksgiving when we still lived in New England, another cousin and I decided to walk off dinner before the sun set. We pushed the girls in a double running stroller. Greenfield, Massachusetts was so quiet. There were no cars on the streets, only the occasional couple walking a dog.

We were crossing the main drag and heading towards the cemetery when a man slouched past. His eyes were bloodshot, he was wearing a cheap leather jacket with the collar turned up against the cold, he walked in a hurry. Cousin Hannah and I could both tell he was rushing to nowhere. It was Thanksgiving day and he had no place to go.

I talked to Corina on the phone yesterday. Her 1-year-old was crying so hard she took him to the emergency room. He was severely constipated. She told me he’s sensitive to noise and the homeless shelter where they’re staying is loud and crowded. He cries at night. “Needless to say his crying created some hostility among a few of the ladies,” Corina wrote in an email. “Now they’re critizing everything I do as a mother. Part of me wants to leave, but we have no where to go … I don’t know what to do. I’m so scared.”

We’re so fortunate to be spending Thanksgiving with family in California. Yet another cousin is expecting a first baby. My brother Zach and his family are flying out all the way from New York. I feel so grateful to be able to spend time with all of them.

I’m counting my blessings. And holding my cousin L, the man with the red eyes who had nowhere to go, and Corina in my heart.

Related posts:
A New Mom Explains Why She Started Stealing
My Name is Jennifer and I’m a Stuff-a-holic
On Being Pregnant for the Last Time

Where will you spend Thanksgiving this year? Is there anyone less fortunate you are holding in your thoughts?

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5 thoughts on “Thinking of the Less Fortunate on Thanksgiving”

  1. I’m so sorry to hear of your family’s loss.

    My best friend in junior high laughed when she heard I was hit by a car–it’s such a human reaction to shock.

  2. When your life is falling apart during the holidays, you can feel like you’re the only one in the world not creating Hallmark moments. And when you’re going through grief, or divorce, or you’re broke and someone brings you something good to eat or helps you pack or gives you a ride, you never forget it. And when your life starts working again,hopefully you–we, all of us–will pay it forward.

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