A few weeks ago my brother and I scattered our parents’ ashes into the St. Joseph River in South Bend. Leeper Park hugs the river immediately north of downtown, and is a short walk from Mom’s childhood home. It was Mom’s wish that her ashes be scattered there. Dad wished only that his ashes be scattered, so we chose this place for him, too. We invited close friends and family.
We crossed a footbridge onto a small island just off the river bank, and released their ashes under this tree. Rick released Dad, and I released Mom. A persistent, insistent wind wanted to blow their ashes back, so we went slowly. Finally we finished, and their remains spread gently into the water.
My wife handed out flowers from large bouquets; carnations, roses, lilies, and daisies. Our guests took them gratefully and tossed them right into the water so they could float downriver with Mom and Dad.
It was good to share stories with everyone and shed mutual tears. Several of us then went to lunch together after and continued to stay connected over our mutual losses.
Thanksgiving was Mom’s favorite holiday. Until she handed off the reins to me six or seven years ago, she always made the family meal. It was the same every year, as the food tradition mattered so much to her. A well-set table also mattered to her and it was the one time we used the generational family china, glassware, and silver. When Mom passed the china down to my wife and me, we knew she meant for us to continue her traditions. We did.
Now, I may not. Those traditions don’t mean anything to my wife’s family, although they cheerfully went along with them these last several years. What’s left of my family don’t always come for Thanksgiving. This year especially, my two sons will spend Thanksgiving with their mom, as it’s the first since we lost their oldest sister Rana. It feels like we are free to make our own traditions. Or maybe we’ll make no traditions and just do whatever feels good every year. But no matter what we do, we’ll remember Mom on her favorite holiday.