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November 22, 2011 9:57 am

The Amend corner: Thanksgiving is harder this year

Written by Don Amend

Thanksgiving will be a little somber for me this week.

Recently, we spent a few days with our son and his family, enjoying the company of two pre-school grandchildren who entertained us royally. They took us to an aquarium, and we shared their wonder at the variety of strange creatures that live in our oceans. They showed us dinosaur bones and bugs, their favorite parts of the natural history museum and joined us in watching Native American dancing, something they hadn’t seen before.

In between those activities, they helped us put puzzles together, shared their books with us and showed us their toys. We enjoyed a round of hopscotch using rules that constantly changed as the situation dictated and went on expeditions to “look for sticks.”  We tossed and kicked footballs and ate several helpings of imaginary eggs — actually a miniature foam football  — that were sometimes delivered to us by a Fisher-Price scoop loader during a round of playing “restaurant.”

In short, we had a lot of fun, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable week.

Midway through our stay, though, I received a call that brought no joy. My youngest brother had died unexpectedly, and the news brought a shadow of sorrow and regret over our trip.

It is always hard to lose a family member, but in this case, my sorrow is intensified by a tinge of guilt. My brother was much younger than I, and, for his own reasons, had separated himself from the rest of us for many years. We had little contact with him; consequently, I barely knew my little brother. I am left wondering if I did enough to bridge the gap between us and make him part of my life.

That shadow still follows me, and it is coloring my thoughts as I approach the day of Thanksgiving we celebrate this week. My Biblical training admonishes me to be thankful no matter what circumstances I find myself in, but while it’s pretty easy to do that when you’re joining a 2-year-old in singing the alphabet song, when you’re mourning your brother, it’s not so easy.

Sunday, though, while I was contemplating my sorrow when I was supposed to be listening to a sermon, a line from a book I read years ago literally popped into my head, bending my thoughts in a more positive direction.

The book, “Days of Grace,” was the autobiography of Arthur Ashe, the great tennis player who won both the U.S. Open and Wimbledon championships during the 1970s. It was written in the last year of his life and published after he died.

Ashe was only in his 30s when he learned that he had serious heart disease. During a double-bypass operation in 1983, he received a blood transfusion that carried the AIDS virus. He died 10 years later, a few months short of his 50th birthday, leaving his wife and a young daughter. 

Even though he was facing certain death at an early age, Ashe was thankful for what he had.

“I am a fortunate, blessed man,” he wrote near the end of his book.  “Aside from AIDS and heart disease, I have no problems. My stepmother ... is in fine health; my wife is in fine health; my daughter radiates vitality. I have loving friends in abundance. I have the support of skilled doctors and nurses. I need nothing that money can buy, so why should I complain? And beyond them, I have God to help me.”

That attitude, expressed by a man who had spent a decade battling a terrible disease and was about to leave a life and a family he dearly loved, put my own sorrow into perspective, and turned my thoughts away from my guilt toward a more postive attitude of Thanksgiving.

My celebration of Thanksgiving will still be somewhat subdued this year because of my brother’s death, but I am glad that he was able to make his own way in the world. And I’m comforted by the knowledge that, although he had no family close to him when he died, he did have people who cared for him and were with him in his last hours. I am very thankful for that, and I am also thankful for my other four siblings, who have come together to find a way to honor and remember our little brother appropriately.

And I am especially thankful for the little blonde boy with dimpled cheeks who unknowingly helped me deal with my sadness by serving me imaginary eggs, and for his sister who made a special bookmark for me to bring home. They reminded me that, like Arthur Ashe, I am a fortunate, blessed man, and I should be thankful.

I hope all of you have something to be thankful for this week.

1 Comment

  • Comment Link December 01, 2011 11:36 am posted by Karen Frederick

    A great story Donald about what life brings us and how our faith pulls us through. Your family was very special to my family and we have many great memories. Keep the faith.

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