The last guests had left after my grandmother’s funeral. Only my sister and I remained in my parents’ cabin. We had time to sit, eat the funeral foods friends had left and reflect on her unexpected death. At her age, having a heart attack always was a possibility, but still it came unexpectedly.
We pulled out some food and sat around the table. Dad led the blessing which included a sentence that caught my attention then and still burns in my brain.
“Thank you, Lord, for taking Mother home,” he prayed.
A thanksgiving prayer following a funeral?
I have thought on that often since then. Yes, she had some health issues, but nothing terminal or greatly disabling. My dad’s prayer of thanksgiving reminded me of the apostle Paul’s encouragement to’ “in everything give thanks, for this is the will of God, in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (I Thess. 5:18 KJV).
Not an easy response to every circumstance, but definitely advice given for a reason. Perhaps we understand better when we consider the Pilgrims’ fall harvest feast frequently called America’s first Thanksgiving.
The Pilgrims left the religious persecution in Europe to establish a new colony in the New World. The trip across the Atlantic began with two ships until one had to return to England for repairs. In the ship that sailed, the passengers traveled more like baggage than people.
Once on the shore of the New World, the pilgrims had to sleep on the ship while the men built shelters. During that first winter, more than half of the English settlers died from poor nutrition and poor housing. One after another the settlers saw fathers, sons, daughters and mothers slip into eternity as they personally struggled to stay alive.
Only the arrival of Squanto, who showed them how to survive and thrive, kept them from the fate similar to that of the Roanoke colony.
The Pilgrims’ celebration of their first Thanksgiving Feast in the New World came after a year of losses. They had lost family, friends, safe housing and the familiarity of life and food in Europe. Even after the harvest, they did not have enough food for all the Indian guests who arrived for the feast. (The Indians remedied that situation as well.) But they still gave thanks. They looked around at everything that had happened, the good and the bad, and they gave thanks anyway.
For some this year the holidays will not be the same. Like the Pilgrims some feel the sharp pang of loss. Nothing can change that. But we each can choose to be thankful no matter what our circumstances and let the rest sort itself out with time.
This week the Thanksgiving lists abound in numbers and length as we check off our thankfulness for parents, home, food, clothes, school, friends and toys. So much abundance, so many people, and yet the holidays provide a time to keenly realize anew the empty chairs at the table.
Some chairs will be empty because a new job opportunity opened in another community too far away to return for one day. We can be thankful for employment. Others chairs will be subtracted with the pressure of school or other obligations. We can be thankful for the education and that life involves more than just ourselves. Unfortunately, a few chairs are empty because some simply cannot agree to disagree. Difficult as it may be, we give thanks anyway, because we still have the hope for reconciliation.
Been there, done all of those. Although we rearranged the table, we still felt the difference. We had to make a decision to not descend into grieving, grumbling, complaining and whining. We called those we could; prayed for those we couldn’t. We chose thankfulness, if for no other reason than it changes our attitude as we look at life with gratitude.
May you have a happy and blessed Thanksgiving.
(Joan Hershberger is a staff writer at the News-Times and author of “Twenty Gallons of Milk.” Email her at email@example.com)