Always in the midst

It was far from a typical Thanksgiving, but we were happy and grateful.
Thanksgiving night, Bethesda, Maryland, 2013

“It is always in the midst, in the epicenter, of your troubles that you find serenity.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Using Drew’s phone, I took this photo of Matt, Drew and Carla on Thanksgiving Day of last year.  We were awaiting a pizza that was being prepared as the last order of the evening at the only place we could find open in Bethesda, Maryland, that night.  Until you know the back story, it seems like a pretty depressing place to be on Thanksgiving Day.  But there is always a back story, and thanks to email records, I have a vivid record of this one.  Here’s a copy of an email I had sent to family just after midnight that Thanksgiving morning, pasted below:

Jeff seems to be doing better; he was able to speak very brief sentences and seemed mostly oriented and lucid – for example, he asked me to call Drew to make sure he and Matt got home OK tonight, and asked me about how Tuesday’s surgery went (I gave him only the good news of it for now).  They gave him a 7th unit of blood tonight since he is still draining from the wound vac and his anemia has worsened from the extensive blood loss.  The last I heard, the plan was to take him off the wound vac and close the ever-lengthening incision (which is now probably about 24 inches long) on Friday.

Late this afternoon and early evening (until 8:00 pm)  Drew sat with Jeff while Matt and I went and got a couple of hours of REAL sleep in the room we were finally able to get from the Fisher House (although I had to put on my dragon lady persona – never hard to do when needed — to get the room, after one of the charge nurses this morning was a Nazi who decided she didn’t like pathetic family members sleeping in the waiting rooms in her unit…but that’s another story…)  In any case, we are grateful to now have a place to shower, change clothes, sleep in an actual bed, store our stuff without having to carry it around everywhere, etc.  While we were sleeping this evening, Dr. H (the liver surgeon) talked with Drew and seemed greatly reassured at how Jeff is currently doing.  Drew said he used the term “turned a corner” referring to where Jeff seems to be now.  For this, and for some much-needed rest, we praise God.  I’m about to go to sleep again – my room at Fisher House is less than a mile from Jeff, and the floor nurses have my number here.  Before I left tonight I made Jeff PROMISE he would have them call me if he needed me.  I cannot imagine him actually doing this under any circumstances, but somehow the promise was reassuring nonetheless.

It will be a long and hard road, but the outlook is considerably better than it was just 12 hours ago.  Please keep those prayers coming!

Many of you will remember that day, because you were with us then, and through the long weeks and months before and after, through your presence on this blog.  You will be able to understand why a cold pizza brought back to the hospital and eaten in a hospital waiting room late on Thanksgiving Day could be, under the circumstances, a joyful feast (notwithstanding that it was procured and eaten because an increasingly-lucid Jeff, unable to eat anything at all on Thanksgiving, had insisted, from his bed, that we all HAD to get something to eat).

Jeff had just endured 15 hours of surgery on Tuesday that had not been fully completed until Wednesday morning, and despite deep concern from his surgeons as to whether he would survive, it now appeared that he would.  His scolding orders that we “get out and find something to eat” were music to our ears.  He was back.  Thus, despite each of us spending our holiday without some of the people we hold most dear, we have wonderful memories of that singular Thanksgiving dinner.

Gratitude is a relative thing.  It’s possible to be rich and not know it; to be happy and not realize it.  We often talk here at this blog about how there is always a reason to be thankful, no matter the circumstances.  But on Thanksgiving Day last year, we didn’t have to look far to find reasons to feel thankful.

For us, this year’s Thanksgiving Day celebration will again be a bittersweet one.  There will be a conspicuously empty chair at the table, one normally occupied by someone who typically would not arrive until later due to performing a job that is necessary even on holidays.  I trust and pray that again this year, in the midst of earthly woes, we will find joy, peace, gratitude and serenity, surrounded by blessings that still abide with us.

If you celebrate Thanksgiving, it’s likely you also will have a mixture of joy and sorrow to bring to the table this year.  None of us is spared the trials that go with the incredible privilege of being alive.  My wish for us, today and always, is that we will feel deeply the truth of Saint-Exupéry’s observation that serenity is found in the very epicenter of the storm.

One year ago today:

Time for finding


  1. HarryS

    There is always, always Something to be thankful for.

    • Thank you, Harry – I notice that this photo has had nearly half a million shares, so there are others on this wavelength!

  2. I hope this Thanksgiving brings you joy. I try to fill my day with memories of those loved one’s that are no longer sharing the bounty of the day. As I set the table for the bountiful meal we will consume I mentally set a place for each one of them. As we give thanks I look around my table which contains some of their favorite dishes, and can almost visually see them with their heads bowed and a smile on their face’s. This might sound ridiculous , but it brings me joy.

    • Patricia, I don’t think it sounds ridiculous at all. I’m sure we will be joining you in taking time for fond memories of those who have shared these meals with us in the past. It does bring joy, because they are still with us in our thoughts despite having left this earth. I hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday!

  3. Hope I don’t offend anyone, but …
    Group Hug!

    I’m so sorry that you’ll all be missing Larry this year. I wish you joy and consolation together with your family this Thanksgiving, with happy memories and glimpses of a bright and hopeful future (just look at Grady)!
    Love to you all!

    • Susan, no offense at all — I love group hugs! We are indeed counting on Grady and his cousin, Larry’s granddaughter who is just a little bit younger than Grady, to bring many smiles to our faces this year.

  4. Ann

    Julia, thank you for giving us a peek into what it takes to be a caregiver and advocate for Jeff and Matt. The Upper Room devotional today was about caregivers and the Bible verse was Matthew 11:28-30.

    You’re so right about gratitude. It’s one thing to have something good in your life, it’s quite another to appreciate it at the time.

    Who is the empty chair for?


    • Ann, that empty chair is where Larry always sat when he came in from work and joined the family for holiday meals. Larry ended up working a lot of holidays because the hospital never closes. Despite all the trials of the past year, we all have so much to appreciate and I hope we can keep reminding each other of that.

  5. Anon E. Moose

    Please reread my comment from November 3, 2013 @3:17 a.m.

    • Thank you. ❤

  6. Boy is this timely. Lots of storms in my weekend. Thank you for the reminder.

    • I’m happy to hear the timing was right, but sorry for the storms. I’ll pray that you’ll have some sunny days soon, literally and figuratively. Speaking of storms — I was hearing tonight about the bad snowstorms in the northeast today, but I guess snow is not unusual for you at this time of year. I hope you are able to find that place of serenity until things are brighter. Thanks for making time to be here. ❤

  7. MaryAnn

    What a “treatise” (not sure this word fits exactly, but I love how well you capture & deliver ideas) on finding & recognizing JOY! Thank you for sharing this journey w/ us! The Denton family is a beacon of God’s Light lived out in real time.

    • Mary Ann, thanks so much for your ever-encouraging thoughts and words. You are so good at lifting my spirits and making me feel appreciated!

  8. Daryl Hershey

    I have been following your blog for awhile finding it thru the Upper Room devotional. I pray for your family often and don’t do a lot of posting,but today your post caught my heart. I hope you and your family have a blessed Thanksgiving and many happy new years to come!

    • Daryl, welcome to the comments! I am always happy to hear from people who have been reading along with us. I really am going to get back over to the Upper Room soon. I have a devotional coming up there on December 26 but I want to catch up with everyone before then. I appreciate your taking the time to let us hear from you, and we wish you and your family all the best for a joyful holiday! Thanks for being here.

  9. Amy

    Hard to believe a whole year has gone by. Praying you are all”hanging in there” today. I love you.

    • Amy, it really is amazing how fast time goes, “whether you are having fun or not.” Well over two years ago now that I called you that frantic Saturday night. Thank you for being with us every step of the way then and now. BTW, would you like a visit next week? Details to come…Hope you are on the mend. Love you.

  10. Sheila

    Julia, I can remember telling Bill that Jeff was STILL in surgery the following day. His expression was one of disbelief. At that moment, I knew the severity of the situation. I feel as though Jeff must be an example of faith, trusting in God’s plan, that makes me know he reflects goodness to the core of his being. 🙏 My prayers continue, dear friend.

    • Thank you so much, Sheila. I remember you and so many others were there with me in spirit while all that was going on. Your prayers were and are what we survive on. ❤ ❤ ❤

  11. As is confimed in your post, Julia, there is always something to be thankful for. Even if it is simply the fond memory of those God most graciously placed in our lives.

    • Alan, sometimes I think the memories of loved ones are among our greatest gifts…the kind that keep on giving. 🙂

  12. Amy

    I would love a visit. Details when you get them. I am doing OT 2x’s a week.

    • I’ll try to call you with some info tomorrow or the next day. Put that kettle on! 😀

  13. My gosh, Julia. You’ve all been through so much. I just can’t fathom how taxing it must be to wait for a 14 hour surgery. I’m glad Jeff is doing better this year and Matt, too. I am very sorry for your loss, and know that it will be a sobering Thanksgiving, along with your feelings of gratitude, the things that keep us going through adversity. Gentle hugs, powerful woman.

    • Thank you Alys! ❤ ❤ ❤

  14. raynard

    Julia as I might on mentioned before last week would of been my mother’s 90th birthday. But tomorrow November 7th is the anniversary of her passing. She was in the process of getting ready for Thanksgiving, her shopping. While I laugh and think about ‘The Thanksgiving that Snoopy prepared for Charlie Brown, this year we will be eating at Ihop where my downstairs neighbor is the manager. We did Bob Evans last year and Cracker Barrel the year before. Oh the email thing. If you get around to it gmail from Google is free and you have 15 GB of storage good for send pictures.. Be blessed

    • Hi Raynard, Cracker Barrel for Thanksgiving sounds good to me, and we may end up there this year since we plan to have a big bunch together and need lots of room. No dishes to wash, either! In California we had a neighbor who ran an IHOP too, and we used to like eating there. I have a gmail account but don’t use it much…however I may have to start using it soon. I am really enjoying my Google Voice and I’m SO glad you told me about it. Now if I don’t recognize a number I don’t ever answer the phone, and no having to deal with the hassles of Verizon voice mail either. Little by little I am being kicking and screaming into the ever-changing “modern” world. It still blows my mind that email is now considered obsolete by many people. By the time I learn all the Google apps there will be something else…no complaints though, it does keep life interesting. Hope you have a good weekend.

      • raynard

        Julia I got a even better one for you. I belive you can ” merge” your cellphone and house number with google voice. Google Voice will even dial numbers for you. And now with the Google Hangout app( they are trying to merge products together and compete with Facebook) . That app allows me to make free calls through my tablet, ipod and desk top computer. Last thing Gmail and Youtube are both owned by Google.. If you are looking for any type of How To Tips, youtube is the palce to be along with Google’s Helpout Page

        • Raynard, I use the Google voice for my home phone but it doesn’t work with my cell because I have a dinosaur pay-per-minute plan (I told you I was cheap frugal and I never talk on a cell phone if I can help it). I do like using it to dial for me, so quick and easy! I don’t know anything about Google Hangout because I’m not the type to be hanging out anyplace except here. Hee-hee. I don’t even do Facebook very much except to keep up with those that only use FB and nothing else. But I will have to think about it if I can use it with a tablet. Thanks for the tip about Google’s Helpout page, come to think of it, I may hang out there. Next it will be Google Dinner and Google Sleep. They are taking over everything! 😀 I just hope it doesn’t ever come down to Google Breathe. 😀 😀 😀


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