A time to give thanks

Posted: October 5, 2012 in Uncategorized

Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving this weekend. My American friends always kind of laugh about that. Canadian vs American Thanksgiving is kind of like a microcosm of the stereotypes of Canada vs US. Kind of sort of the same, just a little different and unsettling. Yes, we have turkey (polite, quiet turkeys), yams, pumpkin pie and the like. But it’s six weeks earlier than the US.  There’s no big shopping frenzy to follow, so little chance of pepper-spray wielding shoppers at the local Walmart. Our’s doesn’t take up an entire week – it’s one day, period, always the second Monday of October. And we have a full two and a half months before Christmas rolls around, so our stomachs and livers have time to recover.

But the same principle still applies. It’s a time of reflection, giving thanks, spending time with family, and over-indulging. God, I’m looking froward to this weekend! It’s feels lately like life is going by way too fast. My kids are growing up at an impossible rate, moving out, becoming ‘responsible’. Catching up on sleep would be nice. But especially giving thanks.

2012 has been one of the most up and down years of my life. My youngest son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes last Christmas, which threw us into a tailspin. He’s done stupendously well since then, but the fragility of life shocks me sometimes. My two oldest kids started university, making my wife and I both intensely proud and searching under the couch cushions for loose change. I published my first book, which has started to take off, getting some good buzz, garnering some great reviews and healthyish sales. But the bitter irony is, on the very day that I published, I lost my big brother Tom.

Tom had been ill for the past year. Kidney. Heart. Lungs. And cancer looming in the background, not in full swing yet but coming. He’d spent too much time in the hospital since Christmas with various issues. Then in February he had a stroke. His doctor called me on my cell and I was on the subway and at the hospital within 20 minutes.  He was still in active stroke when I arrived. He was terrified. We all were. He was dreadfully ill. But he fought back. He fought through painfully difficult rehab to get better. His main goal, the vision he clung to, was to get home. To walk through his front door, to sit in his chair with his family around him and be home, even for a single day. That one day would make the months of rehab worth it. He did better than that. He got to spend time with his wife and kids, to do some of the simple things he’d dreamed about when he was lying in his hospital bed – making home-made strawberry ice cream with his son, watching a movie with his arm around his wife, tending to his garden, sleeping in his own bed. They weren’t huge, outrageous goals. They were simple pieces of a man’s life, things he treasured.

Tom had six weeks at home before he passed away in his sleep, sitting in his favourite chair, at age 61. We’d talked just that afternoon when he called to congratulate me on publishing my book. We’d been friendly rivals for years on this – we’d both written books and struggled to find our way through the publishing process. My one regret was that I hadn’t let him read it before – I wanted it to be done, perfect before I let him see it. Nothing’s ever really perfect though, is it? I regret that, but I’m thankful that we had time to tell him how much we loved him. We got past all the usual crap that drags us down in life, that muddies up relationships, especially with family. We went past being brothers and became true, close friends.

I miss Tom terribly, especially at times like this. But I celebrate his life as well. So this weekend, we’ll gather as a big extended family, we’ll eat, we’ll drink, we’ll pray, and we’ll live.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your loved ones, no matter when or where you celebrate it.

(Johnstone brothers Wayne(L), Tom (C) and Dan)

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