Giving Thanks with a Broken Heart

By Kim Seeley

Giving Thanks with a Broken Heart

My church has always co-sponsored a community Thanksgiving Eve service with the local Baptist church. For many years, I sang in the choir during the services when my church was the host, and I had simply thought of the service as part of the holiday routine. We sang the traditional hymns, “We Gather Together,” and “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come,” heard a sermon, and the choir sang a Thanksgiving anthem.

After the death of my 19 year old daughter in a car wreck, nothing about church seemed routine. For a while, I continued to accompany my husband to services as usual, but in a few months, I shut down. Everywhere I looked in that church, I envisioned my daughter. The memories were not soothing; they were painful.

I turned to the Crystal Cathedral for my Sunday morning worship time, and my husband went to church alone. This went on for about a year, maybe two. Sometimes I would think, “Today, I will go to church.” Then the hymn would be “Majesty,” which my daughter used to accompany with her friends in a praise dance. I would absolutely break down in the pew and quickly leave the church. I waited a few months, and I tried returning. The opening hymn was “It Is Well with My Soul.” Well, it wasn’t well with my soul, and I didn’t feel like being a hypocrite. I left. My husband got a ride home with his sister.

The second year after the car wreck, I found myself sitting in church on Thanksgiving Eve, next to my sister-in-law. The church was almost empty. I looked around at the bare pews; there were almost more people in the choir than in the congregation. I found myself thinking, of all people, why were my sister-in-law and I sitting in this church on Thanksgiving Eve?

You see, my husband’s sister and her husband had also lost a child. Their 32 year old son had died two years before my daughter. He had been diagnosed with skin cancer on his neck a few years earlier. He went to the doctor, had it removed, but never went for additional follow-ups. Their son had led a tortured existence for several years, unable to shake his addiction to drugs and alcohol. His friends had mistaken his bizarre behavior for alcoholic rage, and when someone notified my sister-in-law, he was beyond help. His skin cancer had metastasized to his brain, and the brain tumor was inoperable.

The only help that could be given to my nephew was medication to relieve his pain. My husband and I helped take turns sitting by his side in the hospital. He was coherent enough to talk about his childhood, and my husband and he would talk of Little League baseball, hunting and fishing – all of the pastimes my nephew had loved. He died just a few weeks after the diagnosis, leaving behind two young sons.

During that Thanksgiving Eve service, I thought to myself, “Why aren’t these pews filled with the people whose families are whole?” I thought, rather meanly I suppose, of the number of people in my church that could have filled the pews with their children, their sisters, brothers, aunts and uncles. They should be the ones thankful. What in the world were my sister-in-law and I doing at this service?

As the service continued, my mind mulled over this question. I admit, I don’t remember the preacher’s topic, although I am sure it examined some concept relating to thankfulness. Why were we two attending a Thanksgiving service? I struggled to make sense of it. Then, slowly it dawned on me. Perhaps it was because we were so painfully aware of just how precious life is. I would not claim the hubris to say that I am more thankful than those people who have never suffered a tragedy. Certainly many of them thank God for their families and their many blessings. No, I just think we are more aware. Perhaps we live a little closer to the eternal, knowing that our children are already there. Perhaps, having known great grief, we are more eager to seek out joy.

I have heard others say that you cannot be healed unless you have been broken. This broken heart of mine will never be fully healed; there will always be an empty place there that I fill daily with memories of my lovely daughter. But such a loss has made me more eager to experience joy, to embrace the blessings of this day and to seek the good things life has to offer with as thankful a heart as I can muster. “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come.” I am coming, and I am trying. Create in me a thankful heart. Amen.

About this writer

  • Kim Seeley Kim Seeley, a former librarian and English teacher, lives with her husband, Wayne, in Wakefield, Virginia. She is a frequent contributor to Sasee and Chicken Soup for the Soul. Her most recent story, “Amanda’s Jonquils,” can be found in Chicken Soup: Messages from Heaven. She loves to read, play the piano, travel and spend time with her grandson, Evan.

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3 Responses to “Giving Thanks with a Broken Heart”

  1. Brenda says:

    Kim,
    What a fantastic article!!! You have put into words what I am sure so many have felt with a loss like yours and Barbara Jean. May your own words and God’s love continue to create in ALL of us a thanksful heart. Love you.

  2. Kathy says:

    “Give sorror words; the grief that does not speak
    Whipsers the o’er-fraught heart and bids it break.”
    With giving voice to Barbara Jeans and your pain I too believe you have reached many thankful hearts.

  3. "Sam" says:

    This is a beautiful article. I know how hard it was to write. You see, I too lost my 19 year old son to a tragic auto accident in 2008. I also sing in my church choir and I love my church. But I probably never really appreciated my blessings until I lost one of my greatest ones. I do believe that this life is one of suffering that we must endure until we see the glory of our God in heaven. I look forward to that day when I shall see my son again!!

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