“Pass the fucking cranberry sauce,” screamed my late grandfather to my mother, his daughter.
It was Thanksgiving 2016, and at 91 years old, Grampaw (that's how he liked to spell it) was losing it, both mentally and physically.
So did the rest of the family sitting at the rectangular dinning room table.
Hearing your grandfather drop an f-bomb for the very first time? C'mon, that's a little hysterical.
But then, out of the corner of my left eye, I saw a look of disappointment and sadness painted across my mother's face.
My smirk and smile quickly dissolved.
I didn't know then, but this would be the very last holiday I'd ever get to spend with my grandfather.
He died on Tuesday, February 28, 2017.
One year later...
"Where’s Grampaw?" Grandma asked.
It was Thanksgiving 2017 and my 87-year-old grandmother wasn't kidding. She wanted to know why her husband of more than 65 years wasn't currently present.
"He died, Mom,” said my mother, her daughter, in the strongest voice possible.
"What? He’s dead? How did he die?”
Grandma needed to know because she couldn't remember.
"He died of old age," said her youngest daughter. "He was almost 92 years old. He lived a full life but had nothing more to give.“
"Oh my!" exclaimed Grandma in utter shock. "Alex is dead? Where did he die?”
The questions kept pouring in as tears began pouring out. No matter how hard she tried, Grandma's recall was gone.
“He passed away at Providence Point, where you're currently living," explained my mother to her mother. "It’s in Pittsburgh."
"Can I please have some tissues?” muttered Grandma, completely lost in a rare stream of consciousness as a stream of tears rolled down her face.
This same exact questioning went on for almost 15 minutes.
My once quick-witted and sharp Grandma could not remember one minute from the next.
I had to leave the kitchen table.
Meanwhile, Mom displayed strength and courage, determined to help her ailing mother.
Finally she came up with a great idea.
My Mom found a notepad and pen and wrote down for her mother the “who, what, when, where, why, and how” of Grampaw's death.
“Thank you, Nancy,” said Grandma to my mother as she folded the note and placed it in her shirt pocket right above her chest.
As you can probably imagine, this Thanksgiving wasn't easy for my Grandma. It was the first time in 65 years that she celebrated without Grampaw.
For a brief moment, Mom's delicious cooking helped Grandma forget all about Grampaw.
But right before dessert, she reached into that shirt pocket above the right side of her chest, pulled out the note and read the words my Mom had written not even one hour ago.
“Dad died February 28, 2017 at Providence Point with you by his side!”
She slowly folded up the note and placed it back in her pocket as a single tear trickled down her right cheek.
In a matter of 60 minutes, my Grandma had forgotten and then remembered, forgotten and then remembered, forgotten and then remembered...
Over the last three years, my Mom has given up so much of her own time to look after her late father and now struggling mother.
Working six hours away in Binghamton, I miss out on the daily challenges my Mom faces in order to take care of her own mother.
That eats away at me, and it definitely ate away at me during my drive back to Binghamton the Friday morning after Thanksgiving.
My Mom is so damn strong, though. I've never been more proud to be her son.
But back to Thursday night, sitting around the rectangular dining room table at my childhood home, surrounded by my supportive mother and father, older brother, his beautiful new wife, my talented younger sister, a family friend, and my loving grandmother, there sat a “thankful” jar.
You see, before we stuffed our faces, everyone took the time to jot down what they’re thankful for (Mom’s idea, of course).
Midway through dinner, my Mom pulled out one of the biggest notes and read:
“I’m thankful for my wonderful family.”
Knowing her mom’s cursive handwriting, my Mom said in excitement, “Mom, this is yours. You wrote this! What a thoughtful note.”
"I don't remember writing that," Grandma responded.
A few "thankful" notes later, my Mom pulled out another big note and read:
"I am thankful for my wonderful family."
Unbeknownst to everyone at the table, Grandma had written the same note twice, subconsciously underlining the word "wonderful" this time, maybe because she thought she wrote it once before but just couldn't remember.
“Well, we’ll have to see about that,” my Grandma said in a state of uncertainty after being told she wrote that note, as well.
Everyone at the table blurted out in laughter.
Even Grandma cracked a smile and then asked, “What’s so funny?”
We laughed in the moment.
Grandma made a funny. But not being able to remember isn’t funny.
So this Thanksgiving and holiday season, make sure you tell your family, friends and loved ones how much they mean to you.
Don’t just think it. Don’t just Tweet it. Pick up the phone. Make the drive. Take the flight. And tell them.
Make sure they remember you before they forget you.
And in the meantime, can someone, anyone, please pass the fucking cranberry sauce?