It's not an easy task to find yourself heading into the holidays when there's little joy in your life.
It had been a bad year, one that would be remembered for the loss of two loved ones, a year that saw financial despair and job loss.
Then there were the health issues. Not everyday concerns, but life-threatening attacks.
Nothing, but nothing went right.
Still, the family gathered as always for the Thanksgiving Day feast. They came from all around the country to share once more in what was always a beautiful family tradition.
The setting was the same as always at Grandma's house. Aunt Esther would bring her famous sweet potatoes. Uncle Joe would play the piano in the great room. Mom would set the table while Dad ... well, Dad would watch football.
Aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters would hug that warm loving embrace that says it's been much too long.
Or would they?
"It's really not the same without her here," someone said. Uncle Peter pretended not to hear it and continued on with an almost believable smile on his face.
"Do you remember when George would tell that funny story about his first Thanksgiving turkey?"
"It was really not that funny, but to hear George tell it. You laughed because of him!"
There was an uneasy silence in the room.
"Time for dinner!" Grandma announced.
One by one, they all took their places at the table. There was an awkward moment when they discovered the two empty seats where they always sat.
"Maybe it's time for Sissy and Jack to move up to the big table," someone said.
"Yes, come sit here next to me," Uncle Peter motioned. "I could use some company right now."
"Okay, everyone bow your heads for grace," Grandma told them.
"Lord, we are gathered here once again in thanks for all your blessings. We are grateful to you for the bounty of this feast and for the family we share it with. Amen."
It was now the tradition of this family to take the time to share one thing they were each thankful for from the past year.
"Who would like to go first?" Grandma asked.
There was silence -- an uncomfortable moment that most everyone dreaded this year.
"Come, now. Who will start?"
Jack, now the youngest one there at the grown-up table, rose to his feet and tried to slip away.
Jack had lost his mother just a few weeks earlier after a long struggle with cancer.
"Jack, you have not asked to be excused," Grandma said sharply. "Perhaps you would like to begin?"
Oh, this was a tough moment. Grandma deserved the respect of a young man, but stirred in him a fire that only youth enjoy.
"Thanks? For what?" he said sharply. "Thanks for taking my mom? Thanks for Uncle Dan losing his job and having to sell his house? Thanks for the cancer that has taken all too many lives?" he said with anger in his voice. "Thanks for what?"
Most of the adults sat quietly with their heads lowered. Some struggled to hold back tears. It was a difficult time, and no one there went unaffected by the loss and tragedies of this past year.
Then suddenly a small voice could be heard: "Thanks for the love."
Heads raised slowly. Looking around the room to see who had spoken, you could hear the rattle of the dishes and the scraping of the chairs against the floor as some repositioned themselves to get a better look.
"Who said that?" Grandma said softly.
Nervously the young child raised his hand and could barely be seen in the far corner of the room.
It was the children's table, occupied this year by only two. The others had been promoted to fill the vacancies at the adult table.
"Jacob, please stand up," Grandma urged. "Tell us again. What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?"
"I am thankful for the love. You can lose a job. God can call all of us home. What will always remain is the love. The love. I'm thankful for the love."
The stillness in the room was unsettling.
"I'm thankful for you, Jacob," someone said.
"Well, I'm thankful for ... ever having your mom in my life. Even if only for such a brief time," Jack's father said.
"I'm thankful for the memories," someone else added.
"I'm thankful for the chance to start over with a new career," Uncle Dan said.
"I'm thankful for cranberry sauce!" the little child yelled out.
Everyone was laughing. Jack returned to his seat as he listened to the others announce what they were thankful for.
"My golf score!"
"My new dress."
"My trip to the Grand Canyon last summer with our neighbors. It was awesome!"
Finally it went full circle right back to Jack.
There was a sudden hush in the room as everyone waited to see if he would join in.
Then looking up with tears in his eyes, Jack said, "Thanks for being my mom!"
Family rushed to his side, and surrounding him, they hugged, kissed, and held his hands.
"Let's eat!" Grandma said.
The young man in the corner whispered, "See, God? Thanks for the love."