Thanksgiving Letter Written to My Father

November 22, 2004

Hey Pops,

In just a few days it will be our second Thanksgiving without you. I foolishly thought that the passage of time would somehow alleviate the ache felt in knowing you’re not here, and that the holidays would get a little easier. So far, my supposition has been wrong. It’s not even a year and half yet, and the pain still feels close to what it was when we said goodbye. Of course, my sensitivity has been heightened because the holidays are here again.

I think one of the difficulties for us is that the holidays have always been associated with such powerful memories of you, mom, and my two brothers. The fact is God specifically placed five individuals into one family. We grew up together, developed strong bonds and attachments with one another and, now we’re only four. Something happened to that circle of five. It wasn’t supposed to be that way, at least not so soon, or at least that’s not how I envisioned it to be. To destroy that strong nucleus, well, it just seems so wrong.
This is the only family I’ve known and understood my entire life. It was the environment where my character was shaped and took form; it was where I was disciplined and given direction so I could stay on course - due north. Four individuals took this unwieldy clay and helped developed him so he could walk a purposeful life. Most significantly, it was because of you and mother that I was introduced to a man called Jesus. In some outlandish way, He gave his life for someone like me, a real-life prodigal and an undeserving candidate of mercy and forgiveness. It’s amazing that the older I get, the more I see my desperate need of his continual grace within my life. Not sure if that’s wisdom or just a greater awareness of my own sinful nature. Whichever way one wants to see it, I’m just starting to see that I’m just like the next human.

Unfortunately, I won’t be driving home from Virginia, nor will I be greeted by you and Kole as was the case for many years. There won’t be any time with you early the next morning as I would come down the stairs and find you alone with the Lord. I won’t see you and mom cooking together as you loved to do on Thanksgiving Day. And it’s hard to think about the three of us chopping wood without you by our sides. Just having you there in the cold weather made even chopping wood seem like a noble tradition.

Only God knew these painful events would transpire as they did in 2003. I guess in some way, I’m glad I never knew you would be swiftly taken away from our midst. The pain is so great at times that I couldn’t imagine preparing for such an event. How quickly the time has passed us by. Now all I wish for is your return. When I hear people talking about seeing their fathers for Thanksgiving, I can’t help but think that we won’t have that same honor. We won’t be able to share another Thanksgiving meal with you. What’s even more difficult to accept is the fact that our wives and children will never have the privilege of sitting around a large table with you and mom and listen to you share many wonderful memories. I can just see the smiles on everyone’s face as you share your stories. I would sit and watch this wonderful picture – a family of five now a family of many sitting together and growing. Watching all this, I know I would be whispering under my breathe, “You're amazing pops!” We just miss you. And what hurts even more than saying our last goodbyes is the fact that I can no longer tell you in person that I love you and that I wish you could be home this very Thanksgiving.

I have to be honest…I've been angry. This past year and four months has been laden with many difficult losses, sometimes one right after the other. Losing you was certainly the greatest loss of all. There won’t ever be any closure for me regarding your departure until we meet up in person in eternity. It's something we must all bear until our time to return home occurs. You can fill me in on what I’ve missed when we meet again. The “unknowns” cause the most suffering because you can't connect the dots. I can't make sense of the little information I have, and it's not much. As a result, the journey is quite a lonely process.

Experiencing so many loses has caused me to do a lot of soul searching, to assess and re-examine my life, and see if my life lines up with my purpose. It has also on many occasions forced me to question how relevant my life is on earth, and whether it has any meaning or value. Yes, those feelings of hopelessness have surfaced many times since your departure. When I've talked with others who have lost a loved one, I see I'm not alone. But it certainly is a battle. It’s so contrary to my nature because I’ve always been one to encourage others and offer hope to those needing a smile. Now I’ve been stripped of what I love to give. I just hope that this phase of my life is part of a bigger picture, a divine plan. There are times when I question how much longer I can go on like this.

But maybe this is an answer to many years of prayer…that I would grow both in depth and in substance, especially in my capacity to understand, connect, and touch the life of another. You always said to me, “be careful what you ask God for because he will probably answer it when your request has much to do with your overall character development." God doesn’t care as much about the periphery issues of our lives, although he does know everything about us. I believe he is most concerned about our growth and overall development as humans.

I’ve learned to appreciate what David talks about in the 23rd Psalm regarding our being in the valley of the shadow of death. I think I know exactly what it’s like to be in the valley, to be at the lowest of lows. This has to be the loneliness time in my life. I know this doesn’t sound appropriate to be so transparent, but to be honest – I don’t care what anyone thinks about the statement or how they view me. What matters most to me is what God thinks of me. If I can’t be honest with myself and with God, then I don’t want to live anymore. Our world has set us on a deadly course where we’ve learned to live fictitious lives, where reality TV is now tantamount to living life. Can I ask you this question? When has, in our history, eating cow brains or other animal parts been viewed as reality? How is cheating on your best friend, betraying them, or "stabbing" someone you trust something to enjoy as entertainment? Is this really living life?

We wonder why there are so many affairs going on. Sure, unfaithfulness and adultery have been going on since the origin of sin, but it doesn’t make it justifiable. I want the woman I marry to know without a doubt that I’m committed to her and only her; that when we’re apart from each other, she can completely trust me. Trust will be central to our relationship as it was in your relationship with mom. There never was a question about your actions.

While on a recent trip, I was told a very significant story about your faithfulness to mother prior to you getting married. Even then, there was something deep within you that had a high level of committment to her; you were a faithful man. I had to stop and reflect on that thought for a moment. Little did you know that that story would come to my attention more than three decades later and teach me a very powerful lesson on love and enduring faithfulness.

Dad, do you realize that even though you’re not in my midst, you’re still teaching me compelling truths each day? Of all the professors I’ve sat under, of all the great gifted men and women I’ve learned from, even some of the worlds best, your life speaks to me more than all of them combined. I wish I could convey the magnitude and depth your influence has had on me. Even now as I write this, emotions rise up within me almost as a reminder of how special you were to me. How I wish I had the vocabulary to fully express how grateful I am to you and to mom.

I know I am going through a very difficult season in my life, one I never imagined I would have to face. I’ve studied it during my clinical training, and I’ve walked others through it. But now I’m the patient. I’m sitting in the chair wishing someone could make sense of this. I’m processing my own confusion. My thoughts walk down a very long path but end at a cul-de-sac. My ruminations go round and round, finding no hope or a moments rest. As a clinician, I just wish I could walk myself through this. When I think of the term “Dead Man Walking,” I sometimes feel like that person. You seem to exist on the outside, but inside there is a certain deadness to the world.

At this point I haven’t seen any breakthroughs, nor do I see something on the horizon. As I’ve shared with you, there are many times I question my own relevancy. Even after you left us, I tasted the powerful sting of betrayal by someone I once trusted and loved very deeply. I’ve had to fight off destructive thoughts of being no value to others, that my ability to make others feel special, or that my capacity to simply place a smile on a face is no longer a gift at my disposal. It’s definitely something in question.

But there is a small glimmer of hope which faintly says, “don’t give up.” As much as I would love to say that there is something deep within me that will get me through this or, that I was this “super-man” of sorts, I can’t make that claim. I wish I had the ability and strength to withstand this on my own, but I’m not that gifted.We were originally created to be fully dependent on God, whether we want to accept it or not. Giving up our independence is fearful because we fear losing our selves in the process. But I would contest that to lose ourselves to the One who created us is perhaps what would release us to be who we are underneath these masks. No longer prisoners to ourselves, but free to be as we were intended to be under our skins.

After watching you suffer right before my very eyes, my ability to trust God quickly diminished. And, now, I still struggle with trusting him. Nevertheless, I faintly believe this whole thing may be part of the lesson God is trying to teach me - that instead of listening to the voice that says “give-up,” I’m to listen to the voice that says, “give-over.” In other words, I’m to surrender all of me to Him, even when I’m scared to trust Him.

This is a challenge only I can go through, alone, with God. Through this all, I hope I can on some greater level know Christ as he knows me. I want to know his heart as he knows mine. And I want to love better, where conditions are removed and my love is pure. For me, this is reality.

In short, this is life – a journey of walking, of learning, of growing and stretching, and most of all – of becoming.

I miss you pops,


TIDBIT: Written at Borders, Commack, NY; Sitting by the bay window, listening to The Notebook soundtrack