This past Thanksgiving flew by without me ever once saying what I was thankful for. Even the days leading up to the holiday weekend, while my friends and family were posting what they were thankful for on Facebook and Twitter, I refrained. I am not sure why, maybe I felt that much of what was being said seemed contrived and had little more meaning than a thoughtless “lol” comment.
Wednesday, the 13th of December, proved noteworthy in that I suddenly realized I had not expressed thanks and now had much to be worried for and saddened by as I faced the potential for a couple losses that loomed heavy in my universe. It is true, and I am not unlike others, that often we do not realize what we have until it is threatened or gone.
My second daughter, Renee, found true love in 2012. And in that finding, she moved out of my house – still living close by. I still get to see her Monday through Friday, as we work in the same building, but now she is grown up, she is a woman. Yes, she was before – but before I could still coddle her, care for her when she was ill or sad, do her laundry, buy her treats, or sit on the couch all day on Saturday cuddled up under the same blanket watching classic movies or sappy love stories. And she never failed to kiss my cheek and softly say she loved me. That is a rare treat for me now and even more cherished.
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This Wednesday, Renee left for London with her handsome English beau, Jack, to enjoy Christmas with his family and see his town, his countryside. She will be gone for four weeks. And while I am so thrilled for her to have this experience and love that she is happily in love, I am selfishly saddened for me and the family she leaves behind in the U.S., as this will be our first Christmas apart. This season marks my 24th Christmas as her mother. As I hugged her one last time before leaving the airport, I felt the sting of tears as I fought hard to hold them back. The close of my car door and the shift into drive was my signal to let the tears flow, and flow they did. What a sense of melancholy and sudden loss I felt, I realized I had not been thankful for the honor of being a mother just a few weeks ago when Thanksgiving offered me the perfect opportunity to express that gratitude…
With a now tear-stained face, I drove further away from LAX and eased through the streets to enter the freeway that would take me to home, where Tom and my other children were waiting. A text message appeared on my phone. With care, I read it. It was from my oldest daughter, Nicole, who is married and lives about an hour away from me. It was a group text she had sent to me, her father, and two younger siblings, Gregory and Audrey. Her message was simple but took my breath away…
“Currently I am locked down on Cal State University Fullerton campus. I am barricaded in a classroom. I don’t know much but I wanted to let you know I am ok and I love you.”
I answered as I only knew how, “I love you…” but there was no response from her for a long time.
My heart stopped. I read her text again and again. Within two minutes, another text appeared from Renee, who I had just dropped at the airport.
“There are three gunmen on Nicole’s campus and she is barricaded in a classroom, as the school is on lock-down. Can you please keep me posted. I’m going to be pretty worried. And we fly soon.”
I had left one child at the airport and another was now trapped, huddled in a cold college classroom. With thoughts of the previous day’s shootings and deaths in an Oregon shopping mall, I was stunned, afraid, worried, shocked, and unable to, for a moment respond with anything other than the complete love I felt for my children.
Renee flew to London before knowing the outcome, as the lock-down lasted for several more hours, well into the night. Frantic calls were made home and to my mom. I texted Nicole again and again, making sure she was ok, with much gratitude for mobile technology that kept us in contact, as well as the SMS messaging system the university had set up with students and staff to alert them immediately of issues and emergencies. Swat teams and law enforcement swept the campus in search of the two remaining gunmen, still at large.
There were twenty individuals in Nicole’s group/classroom, they moved once – as a group – to the next floor, fourth floor, in their hall and barricaded themselves once more. It was cold and Nicole was sick – bronchitis. This was a nightmare, it was horrible, as her mother, to not be able to help – to feel completely helpless. She too, is all grown up, a woman – but the years that brought her to that place, to her adulthood and away from me, melted away like butter in the hottest pan. And all I wanted was to rescue her and keep her safe. We texted back and forth for hours, and every other activity around me disappeared – dishes being washed, blaring TV, dogs scratching, muffled voices…
Her ordeal had begun at 4pm. At 11:36pm, I received a text message saying she was home. A rush surged through me and I felt my bones immediately soften. She was safe – in her own home. Greatest fears unrealized, I was able to sleep, not deeply, but sleep came.
The gunmen, never found, had eluded the police, as well as the thorough sweep of the SWAT teams that swarmed the campus. Room by room, hall by hall, students and staff were released. Nicole and all the others were safe…
So, Thursday – this Thursday was my Day of Thanksgiving. I woke and readied for work. After a kiss for Thomas, I drove away toward my office and stopped to get a Starbucks. It was then I saw the sun battling with the clouds, each wanting their way. I started on my way again, only to pull over once more and park my car. I left my car and walked down a narrow path toward the ocean, and with my black leather boots crunching through the sand, I stared hard at the fitful sky and studied each wave and said what I should have said last month, Thank You.