My mom’s death, in December 2013, took my feet out from under me. I couldn’t imagine a life without her. But she had always told me that God chose the members of our family to be connected to each other and that this connection would extend beyond the grave. So I remained as close to her in spirit as I could, filling my days by cooking her every recipe, using her beloved French cookware and remembering our happy times together.

Over the next year, I grew used to my mother’s physical absence, but I dreaded the upcoming holidays. Autumn reminded me of every “last” with my mom in those months before her death. How could I carry on, mothering my own children, as if I were still a whole person?

At least my husband, children and I had the invitation to my mother-in-law’s warm and loving home for Thanksgiving. My mom would not be there, but the rest of us would gather and share beautiful memories.

Then, the day before Thanksgiving, came the phone call announcing that my mother-in-law was sick with shingles, exhausted and highly contagious. For the first time in my life, we would stay home for Thanksgiving, and dinner would be up to my husband and me. Pulling this off seemed like a Herculean task. I had only watched as my mother and mother-in-law cooked decades’ worth of delicious meals. Now this feast was mine to create—start to finish.

When the meal was finally served, complete with tears of joy, I realized the holy gift I had been given.

My husband suggested we order takeout. No way—my mother would have reprimanded me from the grave. The time had come to see what this French cookware and I were capable of doing together. Was my mom truly near me in spirit? Could she help me become someone I had not yet grown into? Does God really keep us that close, even beyond death?

My mother-in-law, the best cook I know, calmed me over the phone and assured me she would walk me through every step of the meal. My husband dutifully brought home one of the biggest frozen turkeys I’ve ever seen and thawed it in a huge Home Depot bucket, waking up during the night to check on the bird. Neither of us had any idea what we were doing.

With recipes as old as my grandparents, I mixed and stirred, chopped and sautéed, baked and roasted. My husband complied with every last request for lifting, turning, basting and running to the grocery store for more butter. My children watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV, oblivious to the history being made in the kitchen—my cluelessness, my panic, my grief, my prayers, my hope, my relief, my thankfulness.

When the meal was finally served, complete with tears of joy, I realized the holy gift I had been given. I was now a mother like my own mom, a capable Maker of Thanksgiving Dinner. She sat beside me at the table, and I think she may even have whispered, “Good job.”

A sacred moment in a sacred day, our dinner showed me what it means to get the last word over death and to live the truth that—as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:8—love never fails.

Stephanie Lape
Stephanie Lape is a rostered minister in the ELCA, serving Cross and Crown Lutheran Church in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. She lives with her husband and teenage children in Corona, Calif., and writes and speaks on spirituality and interfaith dialogue.

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