Giving Thanks


“You know our hearts, You know our needs.”

These are the words my brother Jim used every year in his Thanksgiving prayer. Our family seated around the table in the house he and his wife rebuilt after the tornadoes of 2003, we bowed our heads as he spoke. The smell of roasted turkey and his world-famous gravy filled the air, and the counter was full of goodies: my sister-in-law’s pumpkin pie and haystacks, my mom’s infamous fudge, and my fruit salad. If we were especially lucky, there might be venison slow roastingĀ  from a recent bow hunting trip.

My favorite part of the meal came just before we actually ate. Jim would go around the table, asking us each to mention something from the past year that we were thankful for. Sometimes someone would say something funny. Sometimes someone would say something serious. I loved the power of reflection, of tradition, of acknowledging our human-ness – that whatever we were thankful for was maybe something we could not have accomplished on our own. I loved that he made an effort to bring thanks into our Thanksgiving celebration.

“It’s just not the same.”

It has been seven years since I sat around his Thanksgiving table, and six years since the accident that took him too soon. Our family dynamics have changed a lot since then. People have moved, and moved again. My nephews have graduated college, and I married and have a son of my own. Still, I confess, I find myself in a love/hate relationship with this holiday of Giving Thanks.

I struggle with wishing things could be the way they were. I struggle with trying to make something new. I struggle with missing my brother. But, today, his words are on my mind, “You know our hearts, You know our needs.”

“What are you thankful for this year?”

This year, finally, I can say that I’m thankful for everything. I’m thankful for all the days we were able to spend together. All the games of dominoes, all the leftover turkey and cranberry sandwiches. All the times we both brought a secret stash of cranberries to make sure there was enough. The tryptophan semi-coma aftermath of 11 people searching for a piece of couch or chair to fall into while waiting for the gumption to get up for dessert. Again.

I’m thankful that, finally, I think the fog of my grief has cleared enough for me to realize that while I cannot recapture those days, I can share the essence of them with my son. The prayer, the food, the stories, and in a few years, maybe even the dominoes. Most importantly, I can share the love of family, and the tradition of taking the time to reflect and give thanks.

My son will never meet my brother in this world, but I will do my best to make sure he knows him. This year, when my little family of 3 gathers around our table, we will give thanks. Thanks for our past, our present, and our future. And, I will tell a little boy about his uncle who made the world’s best gravy and played a mean game of dominoes.