72: Giving Thanks with a Broken Heart

72: Giving Thanks with a Broken Heart

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Book of Christmas Miracles

Giving Thanks with a Broken Heart

Gratitude is an art of painting an adversity into a lovely picture.

~Kak Sri

My Methodist church has always co-sponsored a community Thanksgiving Eve service with the local Baptist church. For many years, I sang in the choir during the services when my church was the host, and I had simply thought of the service as part of the holiday routine. We sang the traditional hymns, “We Gather Together” and “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come,” and heard a sermon, and the choir sang a Thanksgiving anthem.

After the death of my nineteen-year-old daughter in a car wreck, nothing about church seemed routine. For a while, I continued to accompany my husband to services as usual, but in a few months, I shut down. Everywhere I looked in that church, I envisioned my daughter. The memories were not soothing; they were painful.

I turned to the Crystal Cathedral on TV for my Sunday morning worship time, and my husband went to church alone. This went on for a year or two. One time I tried going to church but the hymn was “Majesty,” which my daughter used to accompany with her friends in a praise dance. I broke down in the pew and quickly left. I tried again in a few months but the opening hymn was “It Is Well with My Soul.” Well, it wasn’t well with my soul, and I didn’t feel like being a hypocrite. I left again. My husband got a ride home with his sister.

The second year after the car wreck, I found myself sitting in church on Thanksgiving Eve, next to my sister-in-law. The church was almost empty. I looked around at the bare pews; there were almost more people in the choir than in the congregation. Why were my sister-in-law and I, of all people, sitting in this church on Thanksgiving Eve?

My sister-in-law and her husband had also lost a child. Their thirty-two-year-old son had died two years before my daughter. He had been diagnosed with skin cancer on his neck a few years earlier. He went to the doctor and had it removed, but never went for additional follow-ups. Their son had led a tortured existence for several years, unable to shake his addiction to drugs and alcohol. His friends had mistaken his bizarre behavior for alcoholic rage, and when someone notified my sister-in-law, he was beyond help. His skin cancer had metastasized to his brain, and the brain tumor was inoperable.

The only help that could be given to my nephew was medication to relieve his pain. My husband and I helped take turns sitting by his side in the hospital. He was coherent enough to talk about his childhood, and my husband and he would talk of Little League baseball, hunting, and fishing — all of the pastimes my nephew had loved. He died just a few weeks after the diagnosis, leaving behind two young sons.

During that Thanksgiving Eve service, I wondered why these pews weren’t filled with the people whose families were whole. I thought, rather meanly, of the number of people in my church who could have filled the pews with their children, their sisters, brothers, aunts, and uncles. They should have been the thankful ones. What in the world were my sister-in-law and I doing at this service?

As the service continued, it dawned on me. Perhaps it was because we were so painfully aware of just how precious life is. Is it possible I am more thankful than those people who have never suffered a tragedy? Certainly, many of them thank God for their families and their many blessings. No, I just think we are more aware. Perhaps we live a little closer to the eternal, knowing that our children are already there. Perhaps, having known great grief, we are more eager to seek out joy.

I have heard others say that you cannot be healed unless you have been broken. This broken heart of mine will never be fully healed; there will always be an empty place there that I fill daily with memories of my lovely daughter. But such a loss has made me more eager to experience joy, to embrace the blessings of this day, and to seek the good things life has to offer with as thankful a heart as I can muster. “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come.” I am coming, and I am trying. Create in me a thankful heart. Amen.

~Kim Seeley

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