Thanks Giving

Thanksgiving is probably my favorite holiday.  Christmas is great, but the commercialization of it has largely spoiled it.  Thanksgiving seems to be the one holiday that has remained as it was when I was young: a time to be with family and friends, and a time to reflect on the good things in life.

Yet I know for a lot of my patients and readers, finding feelings of thankfulness is difficult or impossible.  I see pain and loss that is hard to understand.  Thanksgiving is looked at my most as a time to thank God for the good in life, but to those who suffer, God seems to have it out for them, or to be ignoring them completely.  To many, Thanksgiving is a sad reminder of happier times.

A boy in my children\’s school died suddenly last week of an anemia caused by his body attacking his red blood cells.  It came suddenly, and it happened swiftly.  One day he was a normal 14 year-old kid, and a week later he was dead.

I have friends who are going through divorces, who have lost close family members, or who are dealing with inner demons that make celebration very difficult.

Some patients have physical pain so bad that they can\’t even sleep, while others have only a few months to live.

Happy Thanksgiving?

So how do we deal with this reality?  How do we look at the our lives in light of those around us?  Should we feel guilty for our blessings?  Should we ignore those in pain?  Those are hard questions with different answers for different people.  But one thing I do know is that we should not ignore reality.  We can\’t pretend life is a sit-com that will work out in the end.  That does an injustice to the pain of those suffering – perhaps more of an injustice than the pain itself.

Here are some of my personal observations regarding these questions.  They are in no way the complete answer (I am sure readers will add their wisdom to this), but it\’s helpful for me to put them down.  I hope it helps some of you.

1.  I am most thankful for my giving.  The fact that I have been able to make a mark in people\’s lives, to help them in their hard times, to be the person they needed when life was falling apart, is an incredible honor.  Any thing we possess can be taken from us, but what we have done for others is ours forever.  The simple fact that I can help people in their suffering lets me be thankful for what I have.

2.  It\’s a mistake to \”look at others less fortunate and be thankful for what you have.\”  This is the advice often given as a way we are blessed when helping others.  It doesn\’t work that way.  Seeing others\’ pain is a reminder that we live by grace, that life is a gift that we may not have next year, next week, tomorrow.  One piece of advice I give to people who are struggling with self-worth issues and depression is that they find people to help.  It\’s not to see their own blessings in contrast, it is to be a blessing.

3.  The less tightly I hold on to things, the more thankful I am for them.  If I see something as a right, I am offended at not having it.  If I see something as a gift, I don\’t focus on the not having, but the having.

4.  I shouldn\’t feel guilty for what I have.  It\’s not wrong to have things and to enjoy things, but it\’s dangerous to think I deserve them.  If I have good things because I deserve them, then the reverse is true as well: when I have bad things or lose good ones, it is because I am undeserving.  Observing people\’s suffering, I can say that it isn\’t doled out on the basis of how good people are.  That\’s one of the reasons I like Thanksgiving so much: it pushes us away from entitlement, and toward gratitude.

5.  Don\’t judge others on how they feel.  One of the biggest mistakes people make around those who suffer is to try to \”make them feel better.\”  This presumes either that they are mistaken in their pain and you can make it better by explaining, or that you have power that they don\’t over their pain.  Most of the time people \”cheer up\” others, they do it because the other\’s pain makes them uncomfortable.  They do it for themselves.  Don\’t tell people how to feel, listen to how they feel.

6.  Things change.  People who are in struggles at the present time may be great in a month, week, or year.  People who are doing great may be struggling a year from now.  I try not to think of this as being fair or unfair; it just is what it means to be a human.  Living too much in the past or future will mess you up (whether things are good or bad for you now).  You are you, and the you you are is the one that is here now.  I know that\’s easier said than done (near impossible in many cases), but it\’s still worth reminding ourselves of that fact.

That\’s it for today\’s sermon.  Sorry if this sounded like Jack Handey or a Hallmark Hall of Fame show.  I have to let this side of me out of the cage every once in a while.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

18 thoughts on “Thanks Giving”

  1. What a gorgeous post, thank you. Your Point 4 brought to mind (in my usual off-beat, round-about, connect-the-dots way) Philippians 4:13. And I was also reminded of a saying I once heard: The Getting blesses us with socks, but The Giving? That blesses our socks off!

  2. Great post. I lost my best friend to suicide almost 4 weeks ago and it was not her first attempt. Sadly, she didn’t reach out for help this time. Just being a listening ear for others, and helping plan her memorial were some of the only ways that helped me get through some of the days. It was better to be proactive than to sit back and let those low feeling fester the entire day.
    I so agree with #1 and #5…. Being a good listener is more important than anything else you can do. Unfortunately everyone is always trying to “fix” everything, mistakenly assuming that they alone have all of the answers. As devastating as it has been to lose this friend, and how much I had wanted to save her, I knew I had done my best as her friend, being there for her at other low times. I knew I didn’t have all the answers. It was humbling knowing that she trusted me enough to confide in me her dark feeling and secrets and knowing that I would not judge her, but would be a listening ear ( in addition to her spouse, therapist and Dr.). I am grateful that I got to know her, get to know her sense of humor and hear her contagious laugh.

    The one thing I have learned in life is that everyone has problems. Some people are just better at hiding them than others.

    Thanks for the post.

  3. I wanted to wish you and yours a happy Thanksgiving, Dr. Rob. I loved this post. We must be thankful for every good moment we get, and remember to reach out and help others when we can. Tides turn and we will have our rough times too.

  4. I love it when your philosophical side escapes to wax eloquent! Thanks so much! Am here doing my breathing treatment (four times a day) and reading your blog is such a treat. So thanks for your generosity of spirit, for your creativity, and for sharing your heart’s messages….. You make the world a better place, as does everyone else on the planet, each in their own way….. I hope! Take good care….. Ellen 🙂
    P.S. I read somewhere:
    Don’t go through life with catcher’s mitts on both hands….You need to be able to throw back, too!

  5. Butdoctorihatepink

    Addressing point number 1, today on my blog, I wrote about how thankful I am, as a cancer patient, for the doctors who have taken such good care of me these long 16 months. I’m also grateful to you, and other physician bloggers, who give patients a perspective we wouldn’t have had anywhere else.
    Happy Thanksgiving, Dr. Rob.

  6. I don’t think #2 “is a mistake”. The Hydrocephalus Association holds a convention every two years, this year’s convention was in Cleveland. I’ve been going to every convention since ’98 (Washington, DC), because attending the conventions keeps me humble. Every time I start to fret about my inability to drive, my inability to hold a full-time job, or any number of other things related to my hydrocephalus, at the convention I’m bound to meet many other hydrocephalus patients who are ten times worse off than I am. In my world, self-pity takes a backseat to humility, every time.
    Happy Turkey Day!

  7. I’m thankful for your blog.It proves that doctors are people – some are good and caring and others are arrogant jerks who don’t know how to care for patients, but simply how to treat some illnesses.
    So… thank you. Your posts encouraged me to find better care, and my new PCP provides me with the care I both wanted and needed.
    (I’m also thankful that my MS seems to give only mild symptoms so far. But for the grace of God, I could be so much worse off! I understand the point you’re trying to make in point #2, but sometimes looking at those less fortunate helps us to really see and know that we are blessed by the grace of God, even in our hardships.)
    And I’m thankful that the internet allows us to communicate with people that we otherwise might never have met.

  8. Well, maybe if they were using alternative medicine they wouldn’t be in “pain”. Conventional medicine never cured anyone and you know it. In fact, conventional medicine is horribly immoral the way they keep giving drugs that only let people die longer not live longer. And thats why I don’t go to allopathic doctors.

  9. So your points are:1. People who use alternative medicine don’t have any more pain.
    2. I am purposefully making people come in for a ruse. I will never cure anyone or even help anyone (I know it, yet I still do it).
    3. I am an immoral person to be practicing the medicine I am practicing.

    I can see why you don’t go to doctors like me if you think I am immoral. I am sorry you are so angry and hateful to make such mean-spirited and slanderous statements. I assume you must have had absolutely horrible experiences with conventional medicine. I am sorry for that.

    Putting this on a post that is meant to reach out to people in pain is quite audacious. The venom and hate in your statement in response to my sympathetic words are really remarkable.

    I am sorry things are so bad for you.

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