Tag Archives: thankful

Yes, We Gave Thanks

My family
My family

It seems almost strange to not post something the evening of Thanksgiving, so here I sit, my head swirling and more than a bit tired, writing.

I know there are a lot of families do the whole thing where they go around the table, inflicting on their small children (and the rest of the family) the requirement that they extol what they’re thankful for.  In reality, you usually hear “for good, and pie and my brother and sisters and . . . ” you get the point.  I know this because my mother-in-law used to do this to us every year and Abbi, Hannah, and even my wife, her daughter, used to sit with that giggling nervous laugh unsure what to say.  It was the same every year.

Don’t get me wrong, for most people this is perfectly normal, it’s a great thing, some even have amazing, philosophical, wondrous things to describe.  I’ve spoken with some people who talk about their lives and what they’ve lost and how they’re so happy and it’s like Shakespeare and Mark Twain got together and wrote an American oratory.

I’m not that guy.

So instead of inflicting that on my kids we just decided to have dinner.

This was the first year where, after losing my wife/their mother and going from a 6-person household (two girls, twin boys) to a 5-person household…my oldest was in college all Fall.  We were suddenly 4 people.  To have Abbi, my oldest daughter, back in the home was just plain happy.
“I thought it would be strange coming home after all these months like it would be uncomfortable,” she said this morning.  “It’s not, it’s just . . . ”
“Home,” I finished.  That’s right, I made the cheesy cliche’d comment.  I won’t apologize.

You have to understand . . . that’s become so much more true for all of us.  It sounds like a Hallmark card or the not-so-subtle lesson from a Lifetime movie, but the reality is wherever we are it’s home.  I woke up really early after a full night last night.  I had already cooked 3 pies . . . I made a family recipe that’s like Chex mix, too.  In the morning I made my mother’s bread dressing and seasoned and put the turkey in the roaster.  By the time Abbi and Hannah, my two girls, had awakened the house smelled like Thanksgiving.

That, you see, was my goal.

When I grew up, whether we ate at my home or my Grandma Lanone’s, the house smelled like Thanksgiving.  There was a mixture of garlic, rosemary, turkey, cinnamon, cloves, pecans, potatoes, sweet potatoes . . . just cooking.  It wasn’t the labor it was the fact that it didn’t feel like labor.  I’m sitting here, tonight, exhausted from cooking literally all day . . . and I don’t care.  Really don’t.

You see, we’re home.  Yes, we’re still, 3 Thanksgivings later, a member short of our 6, but that didn’t factor in.  Sure, Andrea, their Mom, came up during the day.  But the reality was this isn’t a day where the cooking was what is missing.  Andrea was the decorator, the staging person, the social butterfly.  Family wasn’t near – not extended family – so that wasn’t going to be necessary.

No, seeing Abbi so happy to be home, her brother Sam attached to her side all night while we watched the awful movie “The Wolverine” and her other brother, Noah, walking up and hugging her all night made me smile.  Hannah so excited she was talking so fast she was near unintelligible was enough to know how happy she was.  I was just happy to have them all under the same roof again.  Doesn’t matter where it is.

2013-11-29 07.30.19To give you an idea of my family – my own, me, four kids – when you walk into our home the thing that greets you first is our wall of crazy animation.  There’s a Charles Schulz etching that has Schroeder playing the piano while Snoopy listens – animation and music, obviously; there’s a print by an artist recommended by one of my dearest of friends by “The Black Eyed Guy” of a book called the Owl Whooo Knew; then there’s an original animation cell – one of the actual ones used to make 1/24th of a second of a cartoon on the wall.

That mishmash of stuff is our family.  Multiple interests, multiple thoughts, craziness running around in an organized chaos.

But at the end of the day, all of them are under one roof, together.  That makes it home.  That’s really what we should be Thankful for.

And I truly am.

Surrounded by survivors…

Minute by Minute.  That’s how you might categorize my life in the weeks after losing my wife.  I bring this up because of something I saw over the weekend, something that made me think.

I’m going to echo some sentiments stated on Sunday by one of the best still photographers I’ve known: Joel Sartore.

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I can’t begin to say I know what things are like in his household, I’ve faced far different circumstances than Joel has and is facing now.  But what I find extremely interesting is what he has to say about his circumstances.

I guess I should give you the background: Joel is a professional journalist and photographer.  He was just made a National Geographic Fellow and is in the middle of documenting some of the rarest, most endangered species on the planet by getting the species that are housed in zoos across the country.  He’s talented, driven, and one of the funniest men I’ve ever met.

I met Joel years ago when I worked in Omaha, Nebraska.  Joel works and lives in Lincoln, NE, and his wife convinced him to call our station to get a major phone issue fixed by our consumer unit.  It’s a problem we tackled for him and he and I have talked occasionally ever since.  I even give prints of Joel’s as gifts, I like his work that much.  If you can find his Geographic Explorer segment on Grizzlies in Alaska it’s one of the most beautiful, funniest segments ever shot on the series.

But this isn’t about Joel’s or my work.  It actually starts with his wife, who I mentioned up there.  Joel’s wife, Kathy, was diagnosed with breast cancer seven years ago.  Then this year she had a recurrence, but the prognosis looks good.  That would be difficult enough.  He saw a major change in how he worked so he could stay home.

But in August, their son was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma.  Cole is 18, but the prognosis, again, is good.  So is the family, who Joel highlighted today on CBS’ Sunday Morning.

What really hit home for me, though, was the way Joel and his family have said they’re handling the situation.

They’re thankful.  They really are.

The thing I really seemed to relate to was how everyone else seemed to handle Joel’s problems like their entire world had come crashing down:  

“Friends approach us haltingly, as if we’ve already lost a child. They ask us to tell the story just one more time, ‘How is he doing? What happened? Why you?’ Some even tear up.

We tell them that we’re doing okay, but they don’t believe us, not for a minute.

But you know what? We actually are okay. And by that I mean we’re doing well.”

Now, bear in mind, I cannot relate to having family members sick, nor can I relate to the adversity of dealing with breast cancer or lymphoma treatments.  I know it has to be stressful, but I have to admit, I can get what he’s saying.

In the weeks after losing my wife, Andrea, we had a lot of bad things happen: I’d lost my wife, but then we lost our home.  I had my bosses tell me they wanted to “make a change” and my career came crashing around me.  All this while trying to figure out how to raise four kids all by myself.  Where I can relate to Joel is how everyone reacted . . . hell, even still reacts.  I even wrote about how we tell people we’re okay in a column for Good Enough Mother.  We’re okay, we really are.  Are we excellent?  Well, some days we really are.  Are we horrible, well, most times we’re really not.  I got those same, tearful, upset questions about how we’re doing and then the disbelief that we could.

All of us

I have always liked Joel’s work and his attitude.  To be thankful and outgoing and happy . . . well, that’s no surprise to me.  But I take a bit of satisfaction in knowing that two years ago I might have been one of those same sad, sympathetic people but today . . . I’ve got a similar, though not exact, perspective.

It’s an interesting character study that so many people come up, trying to envision themselves in your place and then feel that the adversity is just too much.  I would guess people have no idea how they’d handle tragic events, but nobody does, really.  I didn’t see my life going this direction, but my life isn’t horrible.  I took it minute by minute (to steal a Doobie Brothers line).  Then day by day. I’m maybe looking a week ahead now, though it seems to go months at times.

There’s a clarity to that way of thinking.  I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who sees good things happening and much to be thankful for.