In the late summer of 1988 my father was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. He was only 68. He had not felt well through the summer and recently had gone through a series of tests and x-rays. He and my mother drove straight to my house after receiving the terrible news at a doctor’s appointment.
Mom and Dad walked in. Both looked tired, Dad more drawn than Mom. We went into the family room where Dad sat on the couch and softly conveyed the unwelcome news. Then he looked me straight in the eye and said something I’ll never forget.
He said, “I’ve had a good life.” One of the bravest single sentences I have ever heard.
A month or so later, we all sat around my dining room table for my family’s annual Saturday-after-Thanksgiving visit, since it was impossible to be two places at once on the traditional holiday. When Dad brought a forkful of food to his mouth, he looked noticeably older to me than that afternoon in my family room.
My mind involuntarily jumped ahead a year. I felt like Scrooge when he foresees a vacant seat at his family table except that, unlike Scrooge, I could not change the future by remedying my selfish ways. Yet, I realized I could change my mindset on the future the way my Dad had done a few weeks ago. I forced myself to focus on the present and the three generations of my family seated around my dining room table, feasting on manicotti and eggplant parmesan, our annual “Italian” Thanksgiving.
I learned to give unconditional thanks on that extended Thanksgiving holiday . I learned to put aside regrets and fears, To simply be thankful to be sitting at a table as full of food and family as possible. Thankful for having arrived on this day together, through whatever, and hopeful.
By the next Thanksgiving and subsequent Thanksgivings I also learned that my Dad (and other loved ones) could be two places at once on Thanksgiving Day.