I’m thinking a lot about my parents this week—because my mom died on Christmas Day.
It was Christmas Eve 1997, I had just spoken to my mother on the phone for the umpteenth time about how to make her gravy. I started calling her in college, and continued for decades. I knew exactly how to make it, I was just using it as an excuse to call and show her that even though I was forty years old, a son always needs his mother.
Eight hours later, my sister called, “Mom’s dead…”
Two weeks after the funeral, I was back home in New Jersey. It was a Sunday morning and I was the lector for the 10 a.m. mass. They’d asked me if I wanted a substitute given what had happened, but I said no. I wanted to do it.
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In between readings, standing up front in church, it was impossible not to think about my mother and wonder about Heaven and all those things we hope really do exist. Listening to the choir on the opposite side of the church, I started looking in the direction of the singers and noticed in the front of the altar an elaborate display of Christmas flowers and gifts and foods.
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It took a moment to register, but the closest bouquet to me was a huge spray of daisies. I’d never seen daisies in my church in December, but there they were, just like the daisies my Mom held as she walked down the aisle of another church when she married my dad.
Was that a sign? Maybe daisies are used a lot in church and I just never noticed, I said to myself as I curiously eyed the rest of the display. And then I spotted it. Something you never see in the front of any church. Gravy.
A single packet of McCormick gravy mix.
I got goose bumps.
My mom’s flowers and gravy packet.
Maybe the daisies were a sign, and the gravy was another, in case I didn’t believe the first one.
That year I was having a lot of trouble sleeping, and one night about 2:30 a.m., the phone rang next to our bed and I quickly answered it so it wouldn’t wake up Kathy.
In my heart I know this Christmas my mom is watching over me, and my dad is right beside her, he’s in his La-Z-Boy with a half-eaten bowl on ice cream on his chest as they watch one of their shoot-em-up shows.
It was my mom. We had a wonderful conversation. She told me she was watching me every day on the morning show; apparently, they have cable up there. And then I woke up.
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A few months later I was staring into space through the skylight in our bedroom gazing at a full moon, and in it I saw the face of my mom and I made a direct but simple appeal. God up there in Heaven, give me a sign. She’s up there with you and she’s OK. I have to know…
I tossed and turned for a couple of hours, the moon disappeared from our skylight and I fell asleep. The clock went off at 3:27 a.m. and Z-100, New York’s Top 40 radio station woke me up.
I immediately remembered that I’d asked for a sign, and was disappointed that I didn’t get one. Reaching to turn off the clock radio so it didn’t wake Kathy I realized Janet Jackson was singing her hit song “Together Again,” about how one day she would be reunited in heaven with a lost loved one, and that “I’ll never forget my baby.” I was my Mom’s baby.
Every one of the lyrics seemed like my mother was speaking directly to me. That song made my day—I wanted to tell everybody at work about it, but it was too personal. Too important to me. She’s up there, keeping an eye on me and wanted me to know she’s okay. Of course, there are people reading this who would say it was just a coincidence, the luck of the draw that that song was in the radio station’s rotation for airplay that morning at 3:27.
Years later, our nine-year-old golden retriever Charlie died of cancer. The kids came home from college and jobs to be at his side when the vet put him to sleep. When my mom died, they were very little kids, but when Charlie died, they were young adults and had spent most of their lives with him. He wasn’t a dog to them; he was their brother.
The very next day when I was back on the air at “Fox & Friends,” I was announcing the segment “This Day in History”, and this is the exact final bit of copy that I read without pre-reading: “…And it was this week in 1997 that Janet Jackson had the number one song in America with “Together Again.”
Toba, our audio guy turned up the music and Janet Jackson sang that same song I’d heard years ago when I asked for a sign from above. I stood there, and we went to the commercial.
I asked Toba to play the rest of the song, and I stood there and cried.
A priest once told me “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.”
Maybe it is just a coincidence, but then again a lot of us are praying that somebody is actually listening. My parents may be gone, but I see reminders of them every day. And in my heart I know this Christmas my mom is watching over me, and my dad is right beside her, he’s in his La-Z-Boy with a half-eaten bowl of ice cream on his chest, as they watch one of their shoot-em-up shows.
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I know there are millions who’ve lost important people in their lives, and how much you miss them this time of the year. What we wouldn’t give for one more Christmas together. One last phone call.
And for the others who do still have a parent they love or somebody else who was once important in your life and you haven’t spoken to them in a while, maybe you should call them, text them, write a note. Everybody has a reason why they’ve cut somebody off, but after a while some people forget why they were angry and hurt. We only have a certain number of holidays we get to spend on this earth. Nobody’s getting any younger.
Kathy and I have written three cookbooks and notably, nowhere did we ever print my Mom’s gravy recipe—the best gravy in the world.
She didn’t take the recipe with her; I know exactly how to make it…
Remove the meat from the pan and leave a few pan drippings. Over low heat stir in a slurry of 2 tablespoons of cornstarch mixed with 1 or 2 cups of broth. Whisk while it cooks. Salt, pepper serve.
I have not made that in decades. But please try it, it’s delicious.
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Somebody said once that a legacy is not leaving something for people, it’s leaving something in people. My mom’s gravy? As I tap on my chest, I know it’s right in there.
Merry Christmas Mom…and Dad.
Adapted from Steve & Kathy Doocy’s “The Happy Cookbook Series”. To order their new “The Simply Happy Cookbook” click here. Used with permission of William Morrow, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers. All rights reserved.