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Thanksgiving Blessings

May 9, 2009 | by Sherri Lederman Mandell

After losing my son, I began to understand what it means to be grateful.

On Thanksgiving we are supposed to give thanks.

But what does it mean to give thanks?

It means being grateful for what you have and not dwelling on what you don't have.

It means being humble enough to accept what we are given.

When my kids were babies, I was grateful to have survived another day. It was so much work taking care of little kids. They wore me out so that sometimes I would put them in the car just to drive around and get them to sleep.

Now I am also grateful to have survived another day. But it is because I live with pain as my companion.

When my 13-year-old son Koby was suddenly killed, stoned to death by Arab terrorists, I was sure my blessings were over. But life always surprises you. During the shiva a woman I know who has 10 children came to me and said: “Your son blessed you in life and he will continue to bless you.”

We close our eyes and see our children as whole, overlooking their faults.

Her 18-year-old brother had died as a soldier in the Yom Kippur War. She told me that her mother had suffered, but had also received gifts from her brother's death. I didn't know what she was talking about but I wanted to believe her.

And now, now that my son has been dead almost five months, I am beginning to understand what she meant.

I am forced to reconsider the whole notion of blessing. If the Torah tells us we are blessed, what does it mean for me? When Isaac blessed his children, "His eyes were dim so that he could not see." We also are supposed to close our eyes when we bless our children. The reason: we are supposed to see our children as whole, to overlook their faults, not to see anything wrong with them.


Blessing doesn't mean that we get what we want. It can mean letting go of what we think we want so that we can recognize the gifts we are given.

Discovering blessing starts with accepting imperfection, both our own and other's.

Since Koby was my oldest child, my battle with imperfection usually rested on his shoulders. I found it much easier to accept the other kids, much more difficult to accept him totally because he was more of a challenge in many ways.

For example, Koby could choose to be magnificently lazy, like a prince. He never felt rushed or hurried. The moment was so precious to him he didn't ever risk spoiling it with chores or studying.

The moment was so precious he didn't risk spoiling it with chores or studying.

He wasn't always lazy, though. Once I came home and found that he had cleaned out a year's worth of caked-on ice from the freezer. He would take care of his younger brother whenever I asked him. He would run to go pick up a pizza. He could skate miles on his roller blades. The thing was -- he chose when he wanted to move.

Not easy for a mother to handle.

Getting ready for holidays was especially frustrating. To get him to help was very difficult. I would get angry at him, especially when I saw all the neighbor children helping like little worker ants.

And then I would get even more upset, because I felt his laziness showed me as an inadequate mother.

And in fact, now that I think about it, the reason he upset me so much is because I too am lazy in just the same ways he is lazy.


But now, now as we get ready for Sabbath and holidays and I don't have Koby to yell at to help, I realize: just when the pain of missing him is a constant knife to my heart, his laziness is a gift to me. Because as we go through the holidays, I can't think, if only Koby were here to help us. Because I know that he would be lazing in his bed eating chips and salsa and I would be yelling at him.

What I perceived to be my son Koby's faults have turned out to actually be attributes. What irked me so has been transformed into a blessing.

Mind you if he were to come back, alive and well and tell me: "I went for a walk. I'm not really dead," I would serve him like a king for a couple of days, maybe months, or even a year. And then, I would still work on getting him to help us. But I wouldn't feel angry about it.

Because now I see his laziness in a different light. I recognize something I wasn't ready to see before: There was also a positive part of his unwillingness to get up and work with me.

I could have learned something from him: how to be in the moment; how not to care what other people think; how to enjoy life; how to relax.

In short, I could have accepted his nature more. I could have even been grateful that I had a kid whose biggest problems with me I perceived as a messy room. And an inability to work when I wanted him to.

I cannot romanticize him or put him on a pedestal.

Now the fact that he didn't help helps me. Because it forces me to remember him as a real person. I cannot romanticize him or put him on a pedestal.

Miraculously, I begin to understand how we should bless the bad as we bless the good. What used to drive me crazy seems so trivial now, so meaningless.

And I wonder, will I also one day be able to accept the life I have been given, a life without my oldest beloved son?

I see already glimmers that I will learn to accept the life I have been given, to be able to bless it, to put my hands on my life and close my eyes and see it as the wholeness I have been given.



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