What We Should Be Thankful For

Among group-texted pictures of smiling cartoon turkeys wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving, I had friends asking each other, “What are you thankful for?” One person said, friends and family. Another said, our mentors and teachers. Others said, people we work with.

I thought we should be thankful to be alive. Two weeks ago, an uncle passed away from cancer. Just seven days later, a friend died from cancer too. But it wasn’t because they died that I was glad to be alive. I was grateful because their deaths made me realize everything that I had lost, from chances to catch up with family to chances to seize important moments.

If you believe in something, pursue it, but never forget your greater purpose.

When I first got the news about their deaths,  the first thing that went through my mind were the last conversations I had with each of them. With my uncle, the last time we  spoke, I suggested a way to deal with cancer. It was our first phone call in years, and the reason I’d dialed his number was I’d heard he’d gotten cancer. I wanted to help.

His voice was barely above a whisper, so lacking in energy, that I became keen on saving him. I’d heard how supplementation could prolong his life by 50%. I was like a pesky salesperson, hoping to persuade him to see my point of view. He didn’t. We signed off after an hour of product talk. At the time, I hadn’t known that would be our final phone call. I just remember how tired he sounded.

I look back now and wonder if I’d put more effort into educating him about supplementation, then he would still be here today. I’d made a goal to help save people, yet I’d given up so easily when he showed no interest.

I was grateful, however, that I’d had the chance to try and help him. But I was sad that I was so intent on helping him that I didn’t even try to understand what he was going through in his last year. I didn’t even spend our last phone call talking to him like a niece to an uncle, which was my regret. I’d been so keen on selling him a solution. It wasn’t until the funeral that I learned what he was like as a husband and a father. I’d lost the chance to get to know him when I still could.

If you have goals, there is never the perfect time to execute them.

My friend died from cancer a week after my uncle passed away. I hadn’t been around for her in the last few months of her life. I’d been too busy with work and family emergencies. I told myself, when things settled down, when work wasn’t so busy, I would see how my friend was doing. She had been fighting cancer for two years, and three months ago, she’d outlived the expectations of her doctor who said her time was up. She’d always had a strength and love for life, so I thought she would continue the fight.

I was still waiting for details about my uncle’s funeral when I got the news that my friend had passed away. My first thought was, I’d waited too long. Life doesn’t stop for anything or anyone. Even if you have family members in the hospital and a family member that has died, it doesn’t mean people stop dying and you earned yourself a break. Tragedy will still strike without mercy.

I went through old photos of my friend and replayed conversations in my head. She had loved to talk and tell stories. There is a photo of her on stage, holding a microphone and singing. That hope for one last time together was just a hope, not a reality because I’d procrastinated.

So be grateful for what moments you have together with friends and family. But most importantly, you must never wait. There is no perfect time to tell someone you are thinking about them, or ask an old friend out for lunch. Time won’t cut you a break because you’re struggling with your own challenges, and give you the chance to catch up with someone when “things settle down.”

Thankful for friends and family that show us that life is worth living.

The passing of my uncle and my friend brought people together. I hadn’t seen my cousins in several years. I barely recognized my aunt. I think I should have been giving them my condolences when I saw them. Instead, we were introducing ourselves to each other like we were strangers struggling to attach familiar names to unfamiliar faces.

After the funeral, we chatted with each other and shared pictures that we had on our smartphones. We were hungry for updates on cousins we hadn’t seen in years, so an uncle shared photos of his travels to other countries where our relatives resided. We asked what our relatives did for a living, and where we all lived now. We exchanged numbers and took an updated family photo with all of us in our somber black and gray attire. Most importantly, we wished we could meet again in happier circumstances. Time slips away so easily.

I’ve read some stats from 2016 that said 2 in 5 Canadians will develop cancer in their lifetime. I already know two. Their suffering awakened a new realization in me, about how easy it is to get washed up in the trials of everyday living, so that we forget to reach out to others until it’s too late. I believe my uncle and my friend are out there somewhere, celebrating like two marathon runners at the end of their journey. And I believe that they’re proud to have brought together their family and friends so that we can realize how thankful we are to have each other.

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