When We Give Thanks

When We Give Thanks

From A 4th Course of Chicken Soup for the Soul

When We Give Thanks

Kind words do not cost much.. .. Yet they accomplish much.

Blaise Pascal

We always celebrated Dad’s November birthday on Thanksgiving Day, even after he entered a nursing home. As years went on, these events took on a double meaning for me—a traditional birthday party for Dad, and a personal thanking for all he had been to me in my life.

When we knew that it might be his last birthday, the whole family decided to rearrange Thanksgiving plans and come together for a huge Grandpa Simon birthday celebration at the nursing home. It was a crowded party with lots of noise and abundant food. Dad was having the time of his life. He was a marvelous storyteller, and here was the biggest captive audience he’d ever had. The party crackled around him.

During a quiet moment, I announced that it was now Dad’s turn to listen to some stories for a change. I wanted everyone to tell Grandpa Simon what we loved about him. The room became still, and even Dad was quiet as his family crowded around him, like subjects around the throne.

One after another, people told stories from their hearts, while Dad listened with wet, flashing blue eyes. People recalled all kinds of lost memories—stories about when they were little, stories about when Dad was young, stories that are shared family treasures. Then someone told the story of Mother and the vase.. .

My mother was a short stocky woman, who always bent over the table to read the newspaper. Leaning her elbows on the table to support her chin, her body made a perfect right angle. One night, Dad placed her precious gold-plated vase, a family heirloom, right on her fanny at her body’s angle. She couldn’t move, couldn’t stop from laughing, and screamed for help through her tears, while the vase teetered precariously. We all rolled on the floor laughing until Dad finally rescued the vase.

The stories flowed. Each one seemed to trigger the memory of two more. Even the littlest grandchildren couldn’t wait to tell Dad why they loved him. For a man who had been kind to so many hundreds of people in his life, here was our chance to celebrate him.

A few months later, at Dad’s memorial service, we more fully realized what we had given Dad that night. Those were the stories people normally tell at a funeral, after a loved one is no longer around to hear the words. They are told, then, full of tears, with the hope that the departed will somehow hear the outpouring of love. But we had given those loving memories to Dad in life, told through laughter, accompanied by hugs and joy. He had them to hold and roll over in his mind during his last months and days.

Words do matter, and they are enough. We just need to say them, to speak them publicly to the ones we love, for everyone else to hear. That’s the way to give back love, and our chance to celebrate a person in life.

Sidney B. Simon

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