Last year, I nearly spent my second Thanksgiving Day in the hospital. At the age of fifty two I went into full cardiac arrest ten days before Thanksgiving. I died temporarily, but God had other plans for me and I made a miraculous recovery. I was fortunate to be released from the hospital on Thanksgiving afternoon and my wife grabbed us a carry out meal from Bob Evans. It was a traditional Thanksgiving meal of turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie and mashed potatoes. Oddly enough, as I sat down to eat I reflected on mashed potatoes. The mashed potatoes in my memory sat on a cheap plastic plate. Those mashed potatoes were part of my Thanksgiving dinner in the hospital when I was just eleven years old.
Even though it was over Forty years ago, I remembered my dinner that day in the hospital vividly. I remembered the loneliness and quietness of the day and the utter blandness of the hospital food There was no laughter, no delicious smells and no one to celebrate with on that Thanksgiving Day.
I tried to be tough as I ate in my hospital bed. I tried to enjoy the lukewarm turkey, the slightly edible dressing and the mashed potatoes with gravy that the hospital served. I tried to be thankful. I tried to be hungry. I tried not to think of my family sitting around the table laughing and munching away. My kid cousins would be teasing my sisters, my aunts would be asking about school and Grandpa would be sitting in his chair enjoying a cold beer.
I tried to visualize myself there with them. I tried to have a positive frame of mind. I was only eleven, but I was a tough kid. I kept telling myself I could handle it. I tried and tried and tried and then I cried. I remember seeing my own tear drop falling on the plate that held the mashed potatoes that day in the hospital. I remember pushing the plate away and most off all I remember the deafening sound of silence.
My parents had offered to be with me on that Thanksgiving Day. They said that it didn’t seem right that I would have to spend it alone. I gave the offer much thought and then asked them to enjoy the day with all of the relatives. It was not fair for them to have to sit in a hospital room on a holiday.They also offered to bring me a plate of food and visit that evening and I said that would be good.
On that awful Thanksgiving afternoon I had no appetite and a dismal attitude. A couple of nurses noticed I was not eating and immediately became concerned. They knew three things about me. I was recovering from open heart surgery, I loved sports and I never passed up a meal. They tried to cheer me up, but it was useless.
During my hospital stay I had experienced tremendous pain. I had witnessed suffering and death in the intensive care unit. I had recovered from a coma and severe internal bleeding but none of that stuff made me feel worse than I felt on that Thanksgiving Day when I was eleven.
My parents came to visit me that Thanksgiving evening forty years ago. They brought me a warmed up plate of turkey, dressing and a slice of pie. I ate some of it and chatted with them. I asked how Thanksgiving was back at home with the relatives. They shared some stories, but didn’t make the day sound too good. I think they sensed my mood and didn’t want to make things worse. They asked me how my day was and I lied. I told them it was okay and I had watched some football. After Mom and Dad left I decided to watch a movie in my hospital bed.
The movie was called Brian’s Song. It is a very sad movie about a football player in the prime of his life who dies from cancer. It was certainly not the type of movie that would make me feel better, in fact it was depressing. In the movie, Brian Piccalo the player who dies is full of life and has a positive attitude. Even as he is about to die he is upbeat, joking and he makes those around him feel better.
Brian Piccalo loved to be around people and he had a tremendous sense of humor. He loved his wife and he loved his kids. He loved his friends and he loved his teammates. His positive attitude made life better for everybody who met him. The movie ended and thankfully that horrible Thanksgiving day ended. As I fell asleep in my hospital bed I thought about Brian Piccalo. I thought of how positive and thankful he was. He loved people and he loved each day of his shortened life.
I learned a huge lesson on one of the most depressing days of my life.
I learned to stay positive and that life is about being with people you care about.
I learned you can overcome obstacles with a strong spirit and a sense of humor.
I learned to appreciate every single day you get!
Now, forty-one years later, I was fresh out of the hospital and far from alone on Thanksgiving Day. I was with my wife and daughter and my Golden Retriever, who kept looking at me. The dog looked at me lovingly and seemed to ask “Are you going to finish those mashed potatoes pal?” I smiled as I came to the realization that I was given something Brian Piccalo didn’t get.
I was given another day to live and another chance to enjoy Thanksgiving.
When you learn that each day is a gift and you have experienced a Thanksgiving alone, you really appreciate what Thanksgiving is all about.
People think Thanksgiving is about the food, but what I think it’s really about is noise.
That’s what I’m most thankful for on Thanksgiving! The noise I hear when all of the people I love are around me.
Today, I’m thankful for a chance to hear that noise again on another Thanksgiving Day!
**Note: This Blog is dedicated to all the children and adults who have to spend this holiday in the hospital or alone. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers and please be thankful for the chance to spend the day with those you love!**