Twelve years ago today we celebrated Thanksgiving in much the same way we did today. Early in the morning there was a church activity, a tradition of sorts. In recent years it is a game of flag football. Back then it was a 5 mile race. I’ve participated in both at time through the years but this year, like that morning twelve years ago I did not. My son Daniel participated in the race though. He was newly graduated from high school and a cross-country runner so it was a natural choice for him. Me, I was a runner in high school also but I don’t run much these days so I abstained.
The reason I even speak of this event/tradition is because that Thanksgiving Day twelve years ago is the first memory I have that, to me now, was an indication something was wrong with Daniel. It’s not that he finished the race last but that he was so far behind we were preparing to go looking for him concerned that something had happened to him along the way when he finally showed up walking the last of the race. The rest of that day he was lethargic and pale. He said that he thought he was coming down with a cold or flu and we didn’t give it much more thought. As it turns out he had an atrial myxoma, a benign tumor of the heart. The symptoms are so subtle and diverse that the only way to diagnose it is if the symptoms are persistent enough to cause the doctor to want to take a look at the heart via ultra sound. For Daniel, not being able to run a race was a very subtle symptom. One that everyone would over look until, nearly one month later, he was in the Emergency Room suffering from a massive stroke that would be the cause of his death three days afterward. I understand that there was nothing anyone could have done differently, considering the circumstances, which might have revealed the tumor and possibly saved his life.
Every year since that time as we celebrate Thanksgiving I think of him and that race. For me, Thanksgiving is the beginning of a grieving process each year that culminates just a few days before Christmas. I call it this for lack of a better way to describe it. It’s grief plain and simple. I have friends who have indicated this sort of thing is me living too much in the past. But that’s not an accurate assessment of what I experience each year at this time. This is not something that I decide to do. It is something that happens whether I acknowledge it or not. I have tried to ignore the grief and carry on much like I do the rest of the year but it is there regardless. It is very much in the present and certainly real. There is one quote that speaks to this better than anything I have ever found.
“Oh, love isn't there to make us happy. I believe it exists to show us how much we can endure.”
“That's the way it is when you love. It makes you suffer, and I have suffered much in the years since. But it matters little that you suffer, so long as you feel alive with a sense of the close bond that connects all living things, so long as love does not die!”
— Hermann Hesse
I’ve come to understand that the grief I experience is a direct result of the love I have for Daniel. Simply put, it’s the opposite end of the spectrum of love. It is clear to me now that, at least one of the designs and purposes of this life is to experience this sort of grief. I can’t say that I know why this is needed for us to grow and learn in this life but I’m convinced it is necessary. Otherwise, why would God of included it in His plan? Lehi said it best when he proclaimed.
“For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad.”
— 2Nephi 2:11
I know that all experiences in this life are intended to be for my eternal benefit but that knowledge doesn’t make it any easier to bare in the moment. My grief is a wound that won’t heal and I carry it with me every day of my life. It is no different than a person who has lost an arm or a leg. They can learn to live life with the injury but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still gone. This is why I can say that my grief is not me living in the past. Instead I am acknowledging a very real thing that exists in the present.
So, I will once again live through this cycle of grief this holiday season and from it I will emerge changed and stronger for it with a better understanding of the need for opposites in this life. I will also take in the joy that I have always experienced this time of year. It too will change me and help me to become more like my savior.