Who Is Missing At Your Thanksgiving Table?

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Tell NPR who is missing at your Thanksgiving table, and then join the discussion with host Neal Conan.

NEAL CONAN, host:

Each Thanksgiving on this program we share memories of some of the people who won't gather around the table for the traditional feast this year - those on assignment or on rotation, absent friends, or the people who made this day special in our families. We may glance repeatedly toward their chair, their familiar spot in front of the stove or on the sofa, in front of the TV. We may whip the potatoes with the electric mixer they bought back in 1967 or serve the creamed onions they love so well.

Who won't be there around the table this year? 800-989-8255. You can also email us: talk@npr.org, or join the conversation on our Web site. That's at npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And here are some emails that we received earlier. Sharon in Overland Park in Kansas: Missing from our table this holiday is my son, Specialist Patrick Kaizer(ph). He's in northern Iraq. He's with the first of the 64th AR battalion, the Hellhounds Company. We love him and miss him immensely.

Alana(ph) in Stockholm, New Jersey, writes: As more and more of us pass on, the number of people around our table shrinks. This year our 91-year-old aunt and fabulous baker was just diagnosed with lymphoma and won't be able to be with us. I keep the memory of all of them alive by serving their best recipe. So today we'll be having my mother-in-law's cranberry mold, my dad's bread, my mother's stuffed mushrooms. Other dishes change each year, but never these. Oh, and this year I'm attempting Aunt Angie's apple strudel.

This is from Dana in Denver: My cat Henry died peacefully yesterday in his sleep and I buried him in the backyard. He was 18 years old. That's a good long life for a cat and a large chunk of my life. I will miss him getting all excited about the giant bird, and I will miss taking a nap with him after the feast. Thanksgiving was probably the only time he ever respected my skills as a hunter. I just wanted to say goodbye, old friend. You were a very fine cat indeed.

Susanna(ph) in Grass Valley, California, wrote: Dear John Bahana(ph) had a long struggle with cancer. Before his death, he gave all his friends what he thought they might need to make their lives better - everything from a new computer, a Dutch oven, a new studio, from money to establish a city park. His memory lives on in all good deeds.

Michael wrote us from West Seneca in New York. In June 2008 my wife of 16 years, my 14-year-old son and my 11-year-old daughter agreed to adopt a child from Haiti. In September 2008 we were matched with a beautiful two-year-old boy whom we have named Jeffrey. Although no guarantees were made to us in terms of timing, we had hoped to have Jeffrey home by Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, as is often the case with Haitian adoptions, complications have developed. We hope to have our son home by early 2010. We will feel Jeffrey's absence at our table on Thanksgiving acutely.

800-989-8255, email us: talk@npr.org. Jen is on the line from Lexington in Massachusetts.

JEN (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi, Jen.

JEN: It was very poignant to hear the woman about the dogs because we lost our dog earlier this week. And he had a lot of good human friends as well as animal friends. And today everyone's been missing him.

CONAN: Hmm.

JEN: And my one brother-in-law said that he found himself turning around every time he backed up his chair to check that Scruffy wasn't there.

CONAN: And that he wasn't putting the chair leg on his tail.

JEN: Right. But he's here in a lot of ways still. And in any case, thank you for the program.

CONAN: Thank you, Jen. Appreciate it. Have a Happy Thanksgiving.

JEN: Thank you. You too.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

JEN: Bye.

CONAN: Jim and Renee(ph) wrote on the same point from Fernley in Nevada: This Thanksgiving the one we will miss most is our heroic three-legged dog Jerry(ph). On Thanksgiving Day 2006, Jerry underwent amputation surgery to remove the bone cancer growing in his shoulder. Soon thereafter, we sold nearly everything we owned and bought an RV to spend his last days traveling the U.S. together as a pack. And after nearly two years on the road, we lost Jerry last fall when his cancer finally returned. Along the way, he taught us to be thankful every day for the wonderful gifts the world has to offer, and no matter what adversities life may throw our way.

And let's see if we can go next to - this is Nancy. Nancy with us from Geneva in New York.

NANCY (Caller): Yes. Hello.

CONAN: Hi. Hi, Nancy.

NANCY: I can barely hear you.

CONAN: Who are you missing this year?

NANCY: I'm missing three family members. My daughter was killed in a car accident at age 20. My brother died a year ago, in April, of cancer. And I lost another brother a number of years ago to suicide.

CONAN: Well, I'm so sorry for your losses.

NANCY: Thank you.

CONAN: How do you remember them?

NANCY: I remember them very dearly. My daughter, of course, was a terrible blow, and I'm still recovering after over 10 years.

CONAN: So that never goes away.

NANCY: There's nothing worse than losing a child. My brother who suicided was a very dear man, a nature photographer, very artistic, had a master's degree in English. No one knew of his suffering, and he took his life very unexpectedly. My brother, who died of cancer, kept his cancer quietly to himself, shared it with very few family members, just didn't want a lot of fuss over his dying and went quite peacefully. But, you know, there's a cumulative sorrow. And when you're losing so many family members around table, it becomes very difficult.

CONAN: Would they have been around the table every Thanksgiving?

NANCY: Any combination of family members, yes. I come from a family where there were six children, six siblings. We're fairly close in vicinity. So when we can get together as a whole family, we do. Yes.

CONAN: Well, treasure the ones who are there and remember those absent friends. Thanks very much, Nancy.

NANCY: That's right. Thank you.

CONAN: Have a happy Thanksgiving.

NANCY: Same to you, sir.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Here's an email from Melanie in Denver. This is my first main holiday without my husband Mike, who died at the age of 36 in cancer-related illnesses. Instead of being sad this day, I rallied a bunch of friends around me to run the Turkey Trot Race at a local park. I trained for four weeks to run four miles and successfully completed the race. Congratulations, Melanie. Without my friends and family, I wouldn't have much to be grateful for without my husband. But they remind me of the good things in life.

And let's go next to Benita(ph), Benita with us also from Denver.

BENITA (Caller): Yes, hi. This is another Denver call.

CONAN: Yeah. Go ahead, please.

BENITA: Yes. I'm calling because my son-in-law and my daughter were living in Brooklyn. And she moved back to Colorado because of a job lock(ph) there, and he's staying there because he has a pretty good job. And we're hoping that he could relocate, but at this time, he is not at the table for Thanksgiving.

CONAN: Well, I'm hoping he can make a phone call.

BENITA: Yes, absolutely. And thank you for all that you do.

CONAN: Oh, well, thanks very much, Benita. And I hope everybody raises a glass.

BENITA: Yes. Thank you very much. We will do that.

CONAN: Good luck. Bye-bye.

Email from Krista in Stanford, Connecticut: Who's missing from my table? My fianc�. He's in Afghanistan. I miss him very much. He's on a mission so I won't be able to speak with him for about a month. He is always in my thoughts.

And let's go next to Megan, Megan with us from Cincinnati. Megan?

MEGAN (Caller): Yes?

CONAN: You're on the air. Go ahead.

MEGAN: Oh. Thank you. I'm from Cincinnati and I'm visiting grandparents in Dayton, but none of my immediate family members are with me. My brothers are with my dad in northern Michigan, and my mom's with a friend. My parents are divorced, and I just think it's pretty common for kids in divorced families to not get to be with at least half of their family. And I went away at school, so I'm just to the extended families (unintelligible) this year.

CONAN: So the kids rotate from one parent to the other from year to year?

MEGAN: Yeah. The one who's younger than 18 is still subject to, you know, friend of the court. So, yeah.

CONAN: Well, it's tough when there's - the court's involved. But it's a sad fact in a lot of families.

MEGAN: Yeah. But we'll get to see each other at Christmas, and we talked on the phone. So�

CONAN: Well, that's great, and I'm sure you remember them all.

MEGAN: Definitely.

CONAN: All right, Megan. Happy Thanksgiving.

MEGAN: You, too. Thanks.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Here's an email from Tara in Oakland. I lost my brother Casey(ph) earlier this year. He didn't like most people, but had an abiding respect for the immigrants he worked with. He learned Spanish by ear so he could understand what they were saying. Then he learned their culture and became a mentor to those who needed help. He would interpret for them at doctor's offices and court and help them fill out forms and understand their new country. At my table today, I'll mourn his loss, but I know there are new Americans toasting him and remembering him with me.

And let's see if we go next to - this is Alex, Alex with us from Bodega Bay n California.

ALEX (Caller): Hi, there. I'm calling to represent my grandma Binzy(ph). The last time I saw her was at our Thanksgiving dinner this time last year.

CONAN: And�

ALEX: (unintelligible).

CONAN: Alex, I'm afraid your line is breaking up. But you're talking about your grandma Binzy?

ALEX: Yes. Yes. The last time I saw her was at Thanksgiving last year.

CONAN: Was there something that she made every year at Thanksgiving that you would remember?

ALEX: Yes. I took off traveling for five months, and she died a few weeks before I got home. And this is my first Thanksgiving without her.

CONAN: Well, Alex, we're remembering Binzy with you.

ALEX: Thank you.

CONAN: All right. Happy Thanksgiving.

ALEX: Bye-bye.

CONAN: This is from Bebe(ph) in Oakland: This year, we miss my surrogate mother Looloop(ph) and baby Loden who died this year at 14 months, Jeff(ph) in Ithaca. For the first time, I've had to come face to face with the losses caused by Alzheimer's. My mother is affected, and I'm beginning to see how while very � still very much alive in the present, there is a piece of her that will never be at the Thanksgiving table again. And every year, for years to come, that missing piece will grow.

And let's go next to Patrick, Patrick calling from Sacramento.

PATRICK (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

PATRICK: Thank you for taking my call. I am also a children of a parent that has Alzheimer's. My mother has Alzheimer's. And we used to all go over - the whole family and grandkids and great grandkids would go over to her house for Thanksgiving. The past - the last few years. She is in the end stages of Alzheimer's now, and so we will be missing her.

CONAN: And that can cause some - not just memory loss, but very difficult behavioral changes, too.

PATRICK: Yes, yes. She is - she's in the end stages right now, so she's totally bedridden and just not with us.

CONAN: Patrick, we're sorry for your loss.

PATRICK: Thank you. We all miss her persimmon cookies. They were - the last year's, they were not that good, but we eat them, anyway.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: That's love, Patrick.

PATRICK: Yes.

CONAN: Thanks very much.

PATRICK: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. We're talking about those who will not be around the Thanksgiving table this year, for whatever reason. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Cindy(ph) in Little Rock emails: I'll be missing my wonderful, brave, strong daughter Allison Bowland(ph). She is in Outer Mongolia, serving in the Peace Corps. She was able to join other foreigners in her village for a Mongolian version of the Thanksgiving meal and to celebrate.

Now, this from Paula in Arizona: Charlie Chang Young Fan(ph), a son of Chinese peasant farmers who came to the U.S. 60 years ago to become a respected physicist. No turkey for us this year, dad, but instead homemade dumplings filled with the Chinese chives that still grow in your garden. The memory of you is in our hearts and in our stomachs.

Let's see if we can go next to Ted. Ted's calling us from Oakdale in California.

TED (Caller): Yes. Good evening.

CONAN: Good evening.

TED: Or good afternoon, is it?

(Soundbite of laughter)

TED: Yes, I just wanted to say I ended up - well, I'm kind of a tough, old veteran. I ended up eulogizing my mother the day after Thanksgiving nine years ago.

CONAN: And so you associate this holiday with her death every year?

TED: Oh, but of course.

CONAN: And is there something that she did special every Thanksgiving when she was alive?

TED: Oh, yes. She always put on the whole feed and everything else. And she passed away suddenly right after - her birthday is - was November 7th, and she passed away suddenly right after her birthday. And we ended up doing Thanksgiving the way she would want to do it, and then put her - the services the day after.

CONAN: And it sounds - I could still hear a little emotion in your voice. It's been years.

TED: Oh, but, of course.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Yeah. Yeah.

TED: Can't help it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well Ted, have a great Thanksgiving Day.

TED: All right. You, too.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

TED: Bye.

CONAN: Here's an email from Marty in Eugene, Oregon. My mom died seven years ago on Thanksgiving Day, just a month shy of her 76th birthday. I'm certain she's still kicking herself for having done that. She would never have wanted to cast a pall on a holiday. The day after she died, though, we went ahead and had our Thanksgiving. We rolled her walker up to her place at the head of the table. And because she collected unicorns, we put a unicorn on the seat of the walker. She's been with us every year since. I hope she knows she's never spoiled the day, but, in fact, made it that much more a meaningful day.

And let's see if we can go next to - this is Justin, Justin with us from Bend, Oregon.

JUSTIN (Caller): I apologize, I got to go.

CONAN: Yeah.

JUSTIN: Hello?

CONAN: You're on the air. Go ahead - that's why you got to go.

JUSTIN: Yeah. Hi, my name is Justin. And - yeah, definitely, my brother passed away about, well, passed away in '07. He died of suicide�

CONAN: Oh, I'm sorry.

JUSTIN: �in 2007. And especially more than this year than even in the past couple of years, it just hit me really hard that he's gone. And I'm on my - well, and all my other family is in Phoenix. I'm here in Bend this year, but I've already called them and - to let them know that I'm thinking of them. And he just had one hell of a presence and love. And there's been a lot stuff that happened positively in my life and everybody else's life that he wasn't around to see this year. And he's missed terribly.

CONAN: And I supposed that - I don't know about you - the tradition around the table in my family is to raise a glass to absent friends every year.

JUSTIN: Oh, definitely. Definitely. I mean, nobody is afraid to talk about him, anything like that. And more than anything, I just think of him and really love who he is and was. And everything like that, just wish, you know, there could be more time with him.

CONAN: Yeah. Justin, thanks very much.

JUSTIN: Thank you so much. Take care.

CONAN: So long. Here's an email from Anne in Redwood City, California. I'm reminded of the day of my beloved dad, who died 14 years ago. He always began our meal with eat slowly. This meal took your mother and Aunt Dory(ph) a long time to prepare. On this, the first Thanksgiving with our hardworking and difficult and special Aunt Dory, my brother will remind us of our dad's words. We will miss them both.

Also, let me read this from Jane: My sister died at this time last year. Everything feels wrong. Nothing really makes sense. It is incomprehensible to me. The world goes on without her. I cannot deny, however, that it does, leaving me a little off balance all the time. We had a nice Thanksgiving dinner today. Strange.

And this is from Nicky(ph) in Spokane: I'm missing my husband working in - working a (unintelligible) gig in a small town in Michigan, making money for a new car. He's covering a small rural hospital for a holiday week and I'm doing the meal at home in Spokane, Washington, without my number one dishwasher, him. I'll save some pie and turkey for him when he comes home.

And we hope everybody out there has a great Thanksgiving, and that we remember those people who made this holiday so special for all of our lives, whether they're overseas, working or whether they passed on. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.

Tomorrow, it's TALK OF THE NATION: SCIENCE FRIDAY. We'll see you again on Monday. In Washington, I'm Neal Conan, NPR News.

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