Thankful (or not)

My nephew-in-law, JP, is in the poultry business. Usually here in the south we just drop the formalities and welcome a boy into the family with the “nephew” title as soon as the vows are spoken. But not JP – he’s the nephew-in-law. I’m keeping him at arms’ length for now because I’m mad at him.

You see, being in the poultry business, last summer JP heard about a coming avian flu scare and warned us that we’d better buy our holiday turkeys before the prices went through the ceiling. The industry was forecasting shortages, rationing, and all kinds of mayhem for November – he said. And this is where we ran afoul of each other. With my entrepreneurial spirit, I loaded up. Thinking that when housewives all over the south were clamoring for turkey that they couldn’t get, I would open my friendly freezer door and sell them turkeys at three or four times what I paid. Only the price hikes never came. There was no run on turkey and yes, my basement freezer contains 500 pounds of bird that is worth no more than when I bought them. I don’t even like turkey.

I am currently not thankful for JP.

To be honest, this year has brought me a host of things for which I am NOT thankful. As I consider our Thanksgiving tradition of going around the table and naming something we are thankful for, I wonder what I will say. How will I ignore the empty chair? I am not thankful that Kylie will be absent this Thursday, and I feel that saying I am thankful for something that remains diminishes how supremely unthankful I am for what has been taken. Just like any thanks I could give for JP minimizes the plethora of turkey in my freezer.

Pilgrim Smiley Kylie


No God, I am not thankful this year.

My mind conjures the image of an old southern preacher with a booming voice, white wispy hair, and thin fingers. He alternates pointing at me with pounding the pulpit as he rattles from the book of Job, “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.”  

Giving… Taking… I think we humans look for things to be fair, to stay in balance – or at least come close. Most people don’t legitimately foresee a windfall in their future, but they don’t anticipate losing it all either. The average man just wants to win a few more than he loses and have a little fun along the way. But this loss of Kylie – it can’t be balanced. I see no way God can giveth equal to what he tooketh.

You’re going to have to help me with this one, God, because I don’t know how to be thankful for what I’ve been given this year when so much has been lost.

You might read this and wonder how I could feel that way. How could I allow my grief to overshadow the abundant blessings for which I should be thankful? To that I respond with something I learned early in my marriage. It took years for my patient wife to drum into my head the fact that I had no right to tell her how to feel. So I say to you what I was repeatedly told, “Don’t tell me how to feel!”

But even while I feel decidedly not thankful, I do see some things:

I see friends and family who have been our strength and support since our cancer journey began.

I see an abundance of new friends – people who have shared this terrible sadness with me and lived it themselves. While diamonds are formed through time and pressure, friendships can be forged with either. When I meet a parent who has fought childhood cancer, we have an immediate bond. When they have endured loss such as mine we have an unbreakable one.

I see children who are winning their fight against cancer.

I see my daughters, who not only loved their dying sister with everything they had, but made straight A’s, honor roll, and dean’s list in the process. How is that possible? Only because they are all three remarkable. If my work over the year had been graded it would have been a marginal D-, at best.

I see a wife who gets up every day, pushes through pain and loss and loves us completely.

I see a God who has provided abundantly in so many ways. I often feel his love, even while I question it in the next breath. He has made my table full, despite the hole in my heart and empty chair at my table.

I see a new calling and opportunities to engage in the future.

I see a fight we have to win.

I see many good things. And yet, it is still hard to feel thankful.

Maybe your Thanksgiving brings similar emotions. Have you a loss or heartache in your life that leaves you less than thankful? You and I may wrestle with God for the rest of our days. My faith is often stretched to its limit when I consider this: I believe he had the power to change our course and yet chose not to. I will never understand that. In this life I do not believe I will find a patch that mends or a balm that soothes, but I am learning that people will bring out thankfulness. Love is all and it is not found in isolation. It is found among others.

So if I can stumble my way to thankfulness this year, it will be for you people. In fact, you might be the only thing I can raise in thanks this year…



Oh, and… do any of you want some turkey?

36 thoughts on “Thankful (or not)

  1. I am thankful for your words all the time bit today this post is very meaningful. Having a tough time finding things to be Thankful for so I’ve found one. I’m satisfied

  2. Mark, as usual, that was very inspiring. I can’t even begin to think of what you and your family are going through going into the holiday season, but please know you are all in my thoughts and prayers every day. Kylie inspired (and continues to inspire) thousands of people. What an amazing angel. Be blessed, my friend.

  3. Thank you for this. I am not wishing anyone a happy thanksgiving but rather a good and restful one. I wonder if there will ever be abother truly happy holiday? Hugs to you and your family!

    1. I don’t know. We we hitting the holiday season and it is hard already. I think we will have to do like Kylie did in treatment and steal bits of happy along the way.

  4. I will pass on the turkey offer. We have enough and I am thankful for that. I suppose what I am most thankful for is that I can be thankful this year.

    Best wishes to you and yours…. and if you stock up on cranberry sauce next year, I might be interested. I hear prices are going to go through the roof.

  5. You all have every right to allow yourselves to feel the way you are feeling… I learned myself that grief is individual and it is unpredictable… I tried running away for months and eventually it caught up to me and I walked through six months of grief counseling. Through loss of someone we love, we often learn more about ourselves and how we are wired… And God then touches others lives along the way…just like you and your family, and even SmileyKylie is still doing.,,❤️ To all of you!

  6. I am ever so thankful to have gotten to know your beautiful family and see your strength and faith with every post you make. Memphis is sending you much love today!

    Btw: how were pecan prices in Georgia this year?? My half-niece heard next season is gonna be ridiculous high!

  7. Everything you write is always beautifully written. I am thankful for your writings. You will never know how much they make me think and often make be feel better. I was feeling bad that I was struggling to find something to be thankful for in our struggles for things to be “normal” again. Have the best day possible! Always in my prayers.

  8. Thanksgiving was my Dad’s Favorite Holiday. He has been gone for 13 years.
    My son Alexander had only 2 Thanksgiving. The first was nice, he was 5 months old. The second, he was on a vent and in a coma post debulking surgery and we were alone in the hospital because the in laws decided NOT to come and be with us (My mom who was awesome was giving my sister some much needed time and attention at her home away from us) I am still bitter about that day 5 years later. It sucks.
    I am thankful for what I DO have now (which includes two little girls) But, I am always missing my little turkey.

  9. Mark,
    I’m thankful for for many things in life now…. but it hasn’t been easy. We have a empty chair at our table too. I think about and pray for your family and many others every single day that you continue to find the strength and courage to keep going and find some sort of peace in your life. I prayed that my brother would go and greet your shining light Kylie as she left this home to her eternal one and give her a smile as she gave all of us. Thanks for sharing your heart and soul with us again…. my love to your family today and always… Katrina

  10. Beautiful Mark, touching, truth-filled, and real.
    My old Bible has a section underlined in Exodus 34. It’s the part where God shows Moses His glory. He does it by causing all of His goodness to pass by as Moses is hidden in the cleft of a rock and God’s hand covers the man that the full sight of that glory not destroy him. And then God proclaims His His name as Moses listened. “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in love and faithfulness. . .”
    When we walk through floods and fire we have only Him and His promises to hold on to.
    Somehow your family has come through this devastating loss. I’m thankful that you could write about not feeling thankful with such obvious grace and humor. God can endure your questions. He won’t be offended or cut off the flow of His compassion and grace.
    Asking God to cover your family in love and bring deep peace and unexpected joy today and through the holiday season.

  11. Mark, Often, while reading your Posts, tears spring and my own feelings about the unfairness in the world become even stronger. There are no answers to enormous heartbreak. Thinking of you, your family, and all the families, I know, who are missing that important person at their dinner table today and everyday. Your words are a gift.

  12. Your gut wrenching, heartfelt words always bring tears to my eyes. We are all thankful for the way you put into words what so many feel and are afraid to admit. It hurts us all to know you have an empty chair at your table. God be with you and your family.

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