Fr. Jarek Nowacki presided at a funeral Mass on Tuesday in Silver City and said an unusual thing. “This is a funeral Mass. That is what it is called, I know,” he said. “But I disagree. It is a Mass of thanksgiving. We are giving thanks for the life of the person and the time we had with them.”

That’s something.

I don’t do 30 days of giving thanks on social media, and I struggle to write a Thanksgiving column every year. The whole origin of the holiday strikes me as hackneyed and pumpkin pie is revolting. We didn’t even have turkey when I was growing up. My mother didn’t care to handle raw poultry, so we had a standing rib roast each year with the explanation, “The Pilgrims were British. This is what they really wanted anyway.” Thanksgiving is an unattractive orange gateway to the sparkly Christmas season.

But Fr. Jarek was really onto something. He told the congregation it was okay to cry, but only for a little while, because the deceased certainly wasn’t. He told the family left behind that loving their loved one was the greatest gift they could give and a cause for happiness, not sorrow.

It helps that New Mexico, and especially our small towns, is a great setting for a funeral. I saw dozens of cars pull off the road for the funeral party, because that is what you do when you see a hearse with a police escort. It is ingrained respect because you know a family in your town has lost a loved one. I don’t remember being taught this in drivers ed but it was something we all grew up knowing how to do. It was surprising to me moving to larger cities in the East that this was not automatic for everyone, and I actually disrupted traffic pulling over for a hearse in the oncoming lane.

(It still is the practice in Central Virginia, I am pleased to say. Everyone pulled over for my father-in-law’s last trip from Fredericksburg to the national cemetery in Quantico.)

I know in many (most?) of my columns I am very critical of our state. But that is politics, not people. And Fr. Jarek’s words made me realize the main reason I stay here. It’s the people. New Mexico is a small town spread over millions of square miles comprised of compassionate, caring, talented people who stay here and make it fantastic, despite poor service from many government administrations. New Mexicans always say hello in the grocery store, stop when you have a flat tire, and pull over for a funeral procession. I am thankful to live amongst you.

You may have realized by now that Tuesday’s funeral was my mother’s, former State Representative Dianne Hamilton. Because she served Silver City, Grant County, and House District 38 in different roles for four decades, New Mexico turned out for her in her memorial events. I can’t tell you what this has meant to me, and to my family.

From the State Police honor guard in the State Capitol and the escort from Santa Fe to Silver City, the assistance of the Legislature and legislative staff who made her lying in state possible Monday, the Grant County law enforcement and first responders who honored her Tuesday in the motorcade and with a huge flag across Pope Street, and all the well wishers in both locations, I am reminded that New Mexico is a state of friends and neighbors, even if I haven’t met you yet. Even Fr. Jarek drive five hours from Roswell, where he is now assigned.

Of course, none of this can bring my mother back. And while I miss her terribly, the untold kindnesses from all the individuals mentioned (and I am sure many I missed) have to my surprise done just what Fr. Jarek asserted in her funeral homily. My grief is turning into thanksgiving.

I hope all of you have a restful holiday weekend with your loved ones—either those you were born to or those you chose yourself.

Merritt Hamilton Allen is a PR executive and former Navy officer. She appears regularly as a panelist on NM PBS and is a frequent guest on News Radio KKOB. A Republican, she lives amicably with her Democratic husband north of I-40 where they run two head of dog, and two of cat. She can be reached at news.ind.merritt@gmail.com.