Giving Thanks

By Robin Summers


I’m a big fan of Thanksgiving. Always have been. What’s not to love? Turkey, pumpkin pie, your entire family crowded in around the too-small dining room table, smashing elbows every few minutes, people talking and laughing between mouthfuls, and ultimately the obligatory food coma that overcomes everyone as we crash out in the living room to watch whatever football game happens to be on. In my family, we have Bears, Lions, and Packers fans, so if any of those three teams is playing, it’s an extra-special Thanksgiving Day game.


This year, however, will be different than any Thanksgiving I have ever known.


It was one year ago this week that the world as I knew it began to change. My dad, my rock, my hero, was being taken by ambulance to the hospital. He hadn’t felt good for a while, and it had only gotten worse in the preceding few weeks. Over the course of Thanksgiving week, the ground beneath us shifted once, then again, as one bad diagnosis was followed by another, even more unthinkable one.


Yes, Mr. Summers, you need open heart surgery. But sorry, Mr. Summers, you also have leukemia.


I will never know exactly what ran through my dad’s mind at hearing that. But I do know how he responded, and how he kept responding over the next six months: with courage, humor, and a grace no one had any right to even think possible. He had his down days, to be sure, but they never stayed. “Whatever it takes,” he would say, and when he couldn’t, we would say it for him. Seven weeks in the hospital? Whatever it takes. Endless days of chemo and being poked and prodded and fed on a schedule and never getting a moment’s peace? Whatever it takes. Being essentially poisoned so you can be strong enough to withstand open-heart surgery? Whatever it takes.


Dad was still saying whatever it takes right up until the last few weeks of his life, before the mini-strokes caused by the strain on his heart from the chemo and surgery devastated his mind. Before the previously undiagnosed lung cancer that had spread to his spine devastated his body.


Yes, Mr. Summers, your leukemia is in remission. But sorry, Mr. Summers, you only have 3-6 months to live.


They gave him 3-6 months. He lasted a little more than two weeks.


So this Thanksgiving, one year after things began to go so wrong, I find myself meeting the holiday with mixed emotions. I still love Thanksgiving, but I hate that my dad won’t be here. But when the sadness creeps in, and the anger, I can’t help but think, what would Dad want me to do?


I can see him at the head of our dinner table, his goofy smile as he made his mountain of mashed potatoes with the pool of gravy in the center, the joy on his face looking out over our family – his family – with their clanking dishes and talking over one another at an ever-increasing volume. I see him there, in my mind, and I know he would want me to enjoy it, to give thanks for what we still have, even without him.


So I am thankful for Thanksgiving, for my family, for being together. I am thankful for the impromptu trip out to Illinois less than two months before Dad’s initial diagnosis, and for the impossibly perfect weekend we all spent together. I am thankful for an understanding boss and co-workers and Board of Directors, who made it possible for me to spend so much time at home with my family while Dad was sick. And I am deeply thankful for the time itself, to have been able to be there in the hospital, with Dad, with my family, sharing in the laughter and heartbreak and hope and terrible pain.


So often the true meaning of Thanksgiving – giving thanks for all our blessings, even the ones we can’t see as blessings at the time – is lost amidst the food and the football and the Black Friday deals. But this year, perhaps for the first time, I am determined to give thanks for each and every moment: past, present, and future. I hope you will do the same.

12 Responses to “Giving Thanks”

  1. 1 Paulina November 22, 2012 at 9:22 AM

    Have a good Thanksgiving Robin. I hope you do enjoy!


  2. 2 Beth November 22, 2012 at 12:14 PM

    This is a wonderful mempry of your dad, I can picture his potato mtn with the gravy crater. The “year of firsts” is a tough ordeal but, you make it through it, and you come to appreciate all that is good in your life. I came through with the mantra of:
    Learn to appreciate what you have,
    before Time makes you appreciate what you had.

    Keep the wonderful memories of your dad close in your heart, tell those still here how much they mean to you and always know that a special angel is keeping an eye on you.
    Happy Thanksgving.


  3. 3 Erin Saluta November 22, 2012 at 12:30 PM

    “Courage, humor and grace” what a wonderful way to remember your father. I hope you find happiness and have wonderful adventures that you can share when you meet again.


  4. 4 Carol November 22, 2012 at 8:57 PM

    Thanks for the poignent reminder, Robin.


  5. 5 Devlyn November 22, 2012 at 8:58 PM

    Robin, sorry for your devestating loss, but I am glad you have your memories to treasure forever. Have a safe and joyous thanksgiving.


  6. 6 Sheri Campbell November 22, 2012 at 11:54 PM

    Robin that was the sweetest tribute to you Dad that I have heard in a long while. Well written.Hope your Thanksgiving was wonderful.


  7. 7 rainbowzen12012 November 23, 2012 at 10:40 AM

    Robin, Thank you for sharing a part of your father with us. The love and vulnerability in your words touched me deeply. I hope that gratitude and unseen blessings in you life continue to light a path of hope for you.
    I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving.


  8. 8 Diane November 23, 2012 at 11:51 AM

    That is one of the most beautiful things I have ever read. Your love for your Dad jumps off the page. You completely get what Thanksgiving is all about.



  9. 9 Denna November 23, 2012 at 12:04 PM

    Thanks for sharing with us Robin. Hope your Thanksgiving this year was filled with family, love and great stories about your Dad.


  10. 10 Norma November 23, 2012 at 8:37 PM

    Very poignant.

    I started reading “AFTER THE FALL” today and am enjoying it.


  11. 11 solargrrl November 24, 2012 at 10:42 AM

    wow. What a powerful piece of writing. And what a beautiful message. Your Dad sounds like he was a great guy and found the joy in the life he chose. So sorry there was so much pain in the end, but even then, he led by example. Blessings to you and yours over the coming year. I’m certain your father is there, still smiling while looking over you all from the other side. Thank you for sharing your story.


  12. 12 dodie November 25, 2012 at 5:28 PM

    Wow Robin you made a “direct hit”, we all know our time here on earth is short lived and none live forever, but, when it comes to our parents there’s never enough time. My mom sounds alot like your dad…strong, independent, loving, a fighter…”whatever it takes”, she survived cancer (twice) strokes (twice 13yrs apart), loosing my dad to cancer after 50yrs together..90yrs she lived, loved & laughed and cooked (omg she was the best) but as sharp as her mind still was, her heart was just too tired..on Nov 2 we lost a great lady. Thanksgiving this year was full of memories and some sadness, but approached with a greater appreciation for family and friends, and whats really important. Here’s hoping both our futures hold many more Happy Thanksgivings with all the ones we love and hold dear.


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