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ROUNDS: The first Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving – it’s the time of year where you can turn to the paper and are almost guaranteed to find a few fluffy columns about counting blessings and being thankful. But this year, it would ring hollow coming from me. As many of you know, I lost Jean, my wife of 43 years, to cancer on November 2. She was the love of my life and, without her in it, my world will never be the same.

Often when we think about love, we think about all the firsts. The first date. The first kiss. The first time bringing her home to mom and dad. But what about the painful firsts love throws at us? The first night shutting off the lights alone in bed. The first snowfall without her by my side. Even in death, love remains; yet is the source of grief.

This is my first holiday alone. And while family will be there, I’m still alone. No amount of people can replace Jean’s presence. For 43 years, we shared everything together. In marriage, we became one. She was my soulmate, my rock and her void is impossible to fill.

Hardly an hour goes by where I don’t think about Jean. She’s my first thought in the morning and the last before I go to bed. She was everything to me and is constantly on my mind.

Everyone grieves differently and it can hit you at any time. Feelings come when you least expect them and some moments are worse than others. Sometimes longing, sometimes anger, sometimes pain. We often don’t get to choose how we feel. But when I can, I choose to be thankful.

Thankful that God brought that Lake Preston farm girl into my life. Thankful for every minute we shared together. And that family was always first.

Thankful for the friends, family and even strangers who prayed for us and loved us through it all. Thankful for the doctors and nurses who worked so hard to cure her and to make her comfortable. The kindness we felt made a difference and will never be forgotten.

Thankful she is no longer in pain and is finally at peace. No more long trips to Mayo. No more poking and prodding. No more radiation or chemo. Just peace.

Thankful for everything she left with me. The memories. The kids. The grandkids. I’ll take care of them and they’ll take care of me. That’s what family does and we’ll get through this together. A part of Jean lives in each of us, and in that we can find comfort.

And thankful for our Faith, which gives us the hope that we will be with each other again someday. 65 is too young to leave this earth. While death may separate us now, love binds us together forever.

Like our ancestors who faced a new, unknown world on the first Thanksgiving, I find myself this Thanksgiving anticipating an entirely new world. But relying on courage and Faith, I know God will continue to provide and give me the strength to live out the purpose he has remaining for me. As Jean and I would remind one another, “When you have Faith, you have hope.”

Mike Rounds represents South Dakota in the U.S. Senate.

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