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Thankfulness and All That Jazz November 27, 2012

Posted by ijwoods in Blog+.
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The true story about the start of Thanksgiving is a contentious one and unbearably fuzzy when researched. Food does appear to play a role in it, but that enchanting scene of Native Americans and settlers sharing a turkey around a large rustic dining table may only be a fabrication. Still, I think it’s an incredible idea to have a holiday dedicated to giving thanks. What the heck, right? If we are going to have a holiday, why not have at least one devoted to remembering all the things we can be thankful for? And while we’re at it, lets spend that time with the people we care about and have a feast.

I have to admit that I find taking only one day out of the year for a thankfulness celebration a bit thin, but I’ll take it. And, it’s my opinion that we don’t really need a questionable story as an excuse;  any thankfulness will do. Thankfulness is one of those rare economical pleasures we can indulge in at a time when our budgets may be stretched buying the latest high tech gifts which often have a “thankful” life of a few months at best.

This Thanksgiving I was feeling particularly thankful for all the wonderful people who’ve touched my life and contributed something to my personal evolution. Thanksgiving dinner was not only exceptional food-wise, but was also exceptional in the quality and warmth of my hosts and the endearing nature of their family and guests. It’s a great feeling to not only fill your belly with delicious food, but to feel your heart filled up as well.

A good friend of mine, John Chan, was a world class photographer and a frequent contributor to prominent fashion magazines. John died a number of years ago in a car accident after having moved to California. It was quite a blow to those of us who knew and loved him. At John’s memorial I was allowed to take several pieces of his work, but the one that caught my eye was a photographic portrait he did of the great trumpet virtuoso, Wynton Marsalis.  I was a decent trumpet player many years ago and still enjoy listening to great Jazz players, so this particular portrait had additional appeal (plus it’s a great example of John’s unique work).

A few years after taking posession of the photo I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Marsalis while he was doing a concert here in Vegas, and asked if he would autograph the portait. He remembered when the shoot took place and was shocked to learn of John’s death. After taking a few thoughtful moments he wrote “Ira; We are still here!”

It’s a simple statement but how often does anyone stop to feel what that means? “We’re still here!” I would even simplify that one step further and say, “We’re here!”.  If there is one thing losing K has taught me it’s that death is extremist in its ways. Wow, talk about no compromise, there just aren’t any grey areas with death; it’s absolute and unyielding. Yet, I am still here. How is it that I am not a puddle on the floor with my mouth wide open? I am part of an actual, non-scripted miracle in which I am given a small space to exist – and no explanation for it is given.  It’s so obvious that it’s almost impossible to see. I think if we actually understood the fact of  our existence we might run over to our neighbor and say “Oh my God! We’re here!” Instead it seems the focus is in things with so little consequential value. It’s a bit like taking a first-class vacation to the Grand Canyon and spending the whole time absorbed in looking at nothing except cigarrette butts on the walkways.

The stresses a caregiver goes through are relentless and at times overwhelming. Yet, there is so much to be thankful for. Every moment K was alive, even so slightly, was a blessing for her. It was a gift, and she knew it. I think that’s why she took her dying so calmly. Yet, though it was a blessing for her, her presence in this world was also a gift for me and many others. She contributed to the shape of my life and to the deepening understanding I carry today about being human and experiencing human love. She not only taught me things about life but also about the process of dying. She paved the way for me to accept and not fear the inevitable. I was lucky to have known her and for that I am thankful.

That we have an existence, a form and can experience all manner of human emotion is a gift. Maybe during the hard times our lives seems unworthy of thanks, but I have to remember that one day I will no longer participate in what’s going on here and that will be that. With life comes hope. With life comes learning. With life comes a story uniquely my own for which I will be the witness from the first breath until the last. And for that I am thankful.

K trusted me to be her caregiver and it was a great honor to be in that position. It was a discovery on many levels and an opportunity to treasure her company each day she remained with us.  Caregiving has made me a bit more human and more prone to kindness, and for that I am thankful.

So although I will remain skeptical about the origin of Thanksgiving, I don’t feel the same skepticism when it comes to how satisfying it is to feel thanks. As a caregiver, no matter where in the process, I hope you are able to feel thankful for the time you have with your loved one. For the moment, we are still here and they can receive our expression of love. Let’s not squander it; from my experience there aren’t second chances.


1. Chris MacLellan ''The Bow-Tie-Guy' - November 27, 2012

Greetings, Ira!
I’m with you, “that I find taking only one day out of the year for a thankfulness celebration a bit thin, but I’ll take it.” Even during the most difficult Caregiving days, I am thankful for the Caregiving experience. There is a sense of closeness that comes with caring for a spouse or partner that is hard to explain. Hope will allow us to dream for a better tomorrow, while our reality in the day allows us to love unconditionally even in those difficult days! Happy Thanks-Caregiving to you always!

ijwoods - November 27, 2012

Chris, thanks once again for the reblog, it’s very kind of you. Maybe we can petition to have something like Thanksgiving week. It’s still hardly enough but headed in the right direction. All the best to you.

2. Chris MacLellan ''The Bow-Tie-Guy' - November 27, 2012

Reblogged this on The Purple Jacket and commented:
Breathtaking thoughts on Thanks-Caregiving! As always, great piece of writing, Ira!

3. Marcia Beachy - November 27, 2012

This post on Thanksgiving (and all that jazz) is so beautiful. I am grateful to have read it. I paused with “death is extremist” —and the amazing gift of realizing “we are here!” A blessing indeed to read your words.

ijwoods - November 27, 2012

Thanks for your comment Marcia. Taking a moment to stop and realize we exist is exhilarating- and it doesn’t cost anything. A good friend of mine turned me on to this and he was right on the money.

4. blessedbebeth - Middlescapes.com - November 28, 2012

Giving thanks to K, for bringing you to this ever shrinking and expanding band of caregivers.

ijwoods - December 1, 2012

Hi Beth, I hope you are doing okay there. I do thank her for the inadvertent nudge she’s given me.

5. bethhavey - November 28, 2012

Once again you have created a beautiful piece that is a tribute to you and your humanity as well as to K’s. I was struck by your acceptance of every moment she clung to this earth and it took me up sharp — because of my mother. The dementia has so limited her, that I don’t know her as my mother anymore and miss the ability to relate. Now she is an old woman in a wheel chair who smiles, sometimes aimlessly, and it just is so hard for me to bear. Yet people have told me to accept her desire to live, to applaud it and honor it. I have not been very good at that process. So I continue to pray, “God please hold her in the palm of your hand” –and give my other feelings up–that’s all I can do. Thanks for your words, Beth

Chris de Boinville - November 29, 2012

What a wonderful gift of John’s !! I was really delighted to see and hear that THE Wynton Marsallis took the extra time to sign such a poignant, and remarkable shot by John. For him to have said “To Ira, “we’re still here”, is, INDEED perfect, and magical in both perspective,..as well as in TRUTH !!
I’m saddended to learn (from your blog) of John’s death. I”ll always remeber him as a truly wonderful photographer, and a friend to all who knew him. I (once) had the honor of doing service with him (and driving him around DC) and to “the brother’s ” ashram- in those days. His love for Prem rawat was (is) unparrelled,.. and his loss is indeed huge.
I hope that the holidays will bring you great Joy, …as well as moments of quiet reflection, and completion.
Please write me back Ira !! I always enjoy hearing from you, — and would like to be able to have our Montgomery Hospice bereavement department refer folks to you Concious Departure blog — if that’s agreeable to you.
Amy, (my wife), and Luke, (our son) send you all their love and best wishes too for Channukah / Christmas , and this life, — and the grace that is so abundantly ours for the asking and receiving !!
— In peace,
Chris de Boinville
(previous Hospice ) HHA and CHPNA
Medical Records Scanner
Montgomery Hospice
Rockville, MD

ijwoods - December 1, 2012

Greetings Chris, it’s always good to hear from you. Please feel free to give people the blog address. I’ve tried to contact you several times but I’m not sure you ever received my messages.

ijwoods - December 1, 2012

Beth, I cannot begin to imagine what you are going through and I hope you continue to find the strength to be centered and see clarity. Although I have no experience with dementia, you’ve reminded me of how I felt I could only do so much for K. She had a connection with god on entry and I felt that upon exiting was also a private affair between her and her creator. Yes, there were witnesses at both ends, but all I could do was try and make her comfortable and secure so she could do whatever work she needed to do internally without too much distraction.

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