Filed Under:  Columns, Opinion

Thanksgiving is not always easy

3rd December 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Fr. Jerome LeDoux
Contributing Columnist

It seems that every loving, caring, sociable human being falls victim in some way to the annual holiday blues, anniversary syndrome or SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder. Yet, by spiritual highlights that speak of eternal life, each loss transcends temporal separation.

At Rose Hill Cemetery on November 7, in the middle of our prayers for the eternal rest and bliss of Vernon Azrie Newton, a freight train roared up, smothering my voice with its four diesel engines. Of course, I stopped and waited for the noise to subside. Everyone who knew Vernon well, especially his total obsession with trains, said, “That’s Vernon!”

With her sister Dianne Tucker at her side, Delores “D” Newton decided to visit her son’s grave on Veterans Day. Would you believe that a train passed during their visit? D and Dianne looked at one another in amazement and said again, “That’s Vernon!”

While we were putting Vernon’s homegoing celebration together, his wife Jodi asked a bit anxiously whether we knew the song, ‘Heaven Is a Wonderful Place.’ As it turned out, no one in the whole church had heard of it. Going online, I found a rendition by the Muppets that I emailed to Zenobia “Z” Collins, our music director at Our Mother Of Mercy Church.

Z emailed me back, observing LOL that Vernon must have been cracking up in heaven watching the Muppets teach us that song for his homegoing Mass celebration. All the folks in attendance at the Mass sang that unknown song with smiles and gusto. “That was another electric Vernon moment!” everyone agreed, especially Jodi.

“Vernon was so spiritual,” D mused on the phone the day after Veterans Day. “He, Jodi and Ashten – self-named “The Big Three” – read the Bible together every night. And he knew when to drive up to Indiana to visit Ashten one week before the end. When I objected because of his condition, he said, ‘This is on me, mother. It’s something that I have to do.’

“They shot pictures galore bet?ween the three of them, and Ashten was always trying to get away from Vernon’s bear hugs. He considers himself too big for hugs. But I’m sure that he cherishes every hug and every moment now, clinging to the wonderful memories.

“Vernon’s last weeks of emails seemed to have a finality about them, a “Till we meet again in heaven” ring about them. The prayer he composed for Thanksgiving of 2012 was printed on the back of the wake program. That prayer has the same ring about it. Vernon read it very movingly at our last Thanksgiving we would have with him.”

Job 29:1-4. Job took his theme anew and said: “Oh that I were as in the months past! as in the days when God watched over me. While he kept his lamp shining above my head, and by his light I walked through darkness; As I was in my flourishing days when God sheltered my tent.” Meaning: 1. We may struggle, change jobs and friends. 2. We may live through the flesh. 3. Through birth and death we grow as people. 4. He is the glue that holds, the arms that comfort. 5. He’s the Light and the Way. He is Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Let us be blessed with family’s love through God’s grace. Amen.

Just two weeks before the end, Vernon’s niece Ajani and his nephew Cameron were visiting. The 12-year-olds were having a blast despite the 38-year discrepancy in age. “Uncle Vernon, can we stay with you tomorrow also?” they implored him. “Don’t think about tomorrow. Don’t ask about tomorrow,” he answered. “You are here today! Enjoy today!”

But can that “Enjoy today!” be the rallying cry of the thousands of unfortunates who survived the ravages of the November 8 Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, mourning the loss of their dear ones, their habitat and possessions? In what meteorologists call the second tornado season, what will recent U.S. tornado victims be thankful for this Thanksgiving day?

Their very lives, to be sure. However, in addition to bereavement, a lack of quality of life, the bare necessities of food, drink and shelter, and the most rudimentary conveniences will haunt them for quite some time. Forget about the horn of plenty. Their prayer is that they be given the opportunity to access the basics of life and to live without the fear of storms.

Those and countless other victims and deprived in this country and around the world will not have the privilege and leisure to sit peacefully at a bountiful Thanks?giving table, giving thanks and reminiscing fondly about Thanksgivings and Christmases past. Instead, because of the evil tragedies of natural disasters and moral neglect, it is hard to say “Thanks.”

Every year, about two weeks before Thanksgiving, the dread holiday watch begins for a huge number of people who start calling friends and counselors about their sad, painful memories, their many anxieties and their great distaste for the glitzy, multi-colored lights and prolonged shopping frenzy of the holidays. “I can’t wait until it’s all over!” they say.

All those negatives notwithstanding, there are still priceless, irreplaceable highlights of the words, camaraderie, family life and times of our dear ones who have gone to God.

This article originally published in the December 2, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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