Can I be thankful?

While most of America celebrates Thanksgiving, my calendar will mark the fifth week since my son committed suicide. What do I have to be thankful about?

My son, the helper

Last Thanksgiving, I was thankful that my beloved son had survived one more year with his crippling depression. He’d lost his job, yet again, because he couldn’t tolerate the stress. He spoke of himself as a failure. In his candid moments, he told his mother and me that he had lost hope, that nothing had worked and nothing was going to work. He was holding on to life by a thread stretched to a single, failing filament.

He had attempted suicide before, more than once, and each attempt had ended in hospitalization and a 72-hour hold in a psychiatric facility. Each attempt had rattled us and driven us to look for something new and untried. But with each failed attempt, he became less motivated to seek help.

He was an adult living with his parents because he could no longer support himself. We kept him alive, but living at home on disability reinforced his belief that he had failed at the game of life.

He hated to lose. His favorite game was Civilization and he had played it for so many hours that he could not lose. He knew all of its hidden secrets and he exploited them relentlessly. But the secrets of life he could never unravel.

Am I thankful that he was afflicted with Type I diabetes at the age of 27 and had to learn to master insulin shots and glucose levels and carbohydrate calculations? Am I thankful for the ultra-perfectionism that made him such a great computer programmer, but such a harsh and unforgiving critic of himself?

Let me tell you what I am thankful for this Thanksgiving.

I am thankful that God allowed me to raise and delight in and fall in love with this good and kind son. There were plenty of times when I wept for him, when I was afraid of what the next morning would bring, when I prayed and begged God to heal him because I had no answers of my own. There were times when he frustrated me to the breaking point. But there were so many wonderful times when we laughed together and hiked together and worked together and enjoyed talking about the many things we were both interested in.

If I asked for his help, he was eager to join me in whatever I was doing, and vice versa. When I needed to climb onto the roof, he would be there holding the ladder. When I had a project I was working on, he was curious to learn and to contribute his ideas. And where my own generosity with my time and effort was sometimes limited to my immediate family, he challenged me to think bigger. I’m thankful for the example he set for me as he volunteered with local groups and worked on projects for friends, even for complete strangers.

I am thankful that he taught me kindness and generosity through the example he lived, even when it was often difficult for him to get out of bed.

I hate that he gave up. I hate the fact that his depression won and stole from us and the world such a good and kind and talented man. I hate that I couldn’t help him find a way through the darkness, especially since I have often been gripped by that darkness, too. I hate that the mornings are now empty and quiet, that his room is silent, that his voice has been stilled.

But I am thankful that God gave us 43 years with him, even though so many of those years were heartbreaking. And in saying that, I am not trying to be so trite as to “make lemonade out of lemons.” Whoever penned that nonsense should be thrown naked into a cold, windowless dungeon for a few months.

I am not thankful because I’ve adopted “positive thinking.” I am thankful because I have to be honest and acknowledge the truth: God did something very wonderful in my life and the lives of many others when he created this young man. It is true that he struggled terribly and that we felt some of the same pain he was experiencing. It is also true that our lives and the lives of so many who knew him would have been much poorer had he never been here.

Isaiah calls the Messiah “a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.” (Isaiah 53:3) Jesus himself said:

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” — John 16:33 (NLT)

This Thanksgiving I am sad but thankful. I will feel the heavy grief of my son’s empty seat at our table, but I will thank God for blessing us with his presence for 43 very full and memorable years. This Thanksgiving I will take heart in knowing that God loves us, that Jesus rose from the dead, and that the Holy Spirit will be sitting with us in that empty chair, speaking words of hope and peace.

This Thanksgiving I am thankful that my son is finally healed and sitting in the merciful and loving presence of his true Father.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Oh Charlie, you have expressed what we feel in losing Dustin. In spite of the horrific loss of our son, we are so grateful for the years we had with him. And like you, I picture him with Jesus, maybe playing a heavenly guitar….free front depression.
    The day is coming when we’ll have that wonderful reunion.

  2. Sometimes we imagine that we know what another is going through. We only know of something similar that we might have experienced even more than once. But not exactly whatever that person was experiencing. Many of us experience some degree or other of depression but we escape the crushing form that so often is unfortunately self limiting. It cannot be overcome so it overcomes. The great deceiver convinces his victim that there really is no hope and if that becomes really true there is only one answer.

  3. I am finding comfort in your words today. My oldest niece (33yo) took her own life on Dec 2. It is a terrible road to travel. The grief weighing us down in the midst of the holiday excitement. Helping my family make decisions that no parent should ever have to make. Thank you for sharing your feelings and thoughts with all of us. May you find some peace and glimpses of joy this holiday season Charlie. You are a light to many and I mourn with you.

    • I’m so sorry to hear this, Kinnette. It is a very hard road to travel, full of regrets and sorrow. But God is lifting us up and I will pray the same for you and your family, that you’ll experience his comfort in this very difficult time, and in the months and years to come. Blessings.

Comment Policy:  All comments are subject to moderation. Your words are your own, but AnotherThink is mine, so I reserve the right to censor language that is uncouth or derogatory. No anonymous comments will be published, but if you include your real name and email address (kept private), you can say pretty much whatever is on your mind. I look forward to hearing from you.

Leave a comment


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.