Jenna Lookner: On loss and giving thanks

Posted:  Wednesday, November 22, 2017 - 10:30am
In February of this year I lost my dad unexpectedly. He was a force, both in my life and in the community. He was an irreplaceable person, a phrase confirmed by legions of friends and even strangers that were impacted by his wit, his tenacity, his ferocity, and ultimately, his kind heart.

Over coffee this morning I was scrolling through Facebook and saw a photo that a friend posted of her dear, departed mom, accompanied by a caption about how she thinks of her parents at Thanksgiving. Perhaps it was the permission that I needed to allow myself to be vulnerable today, suffice it to say, I consumed my coffee with a side of tears, comforted by the snores of my elderly dog resting peacefully with his big head in my lap. I'm convinced that dogs know what we need more than we do most of the time.

The wisest people in my life keep telling me that I will never get over the loss, rather, I’ll learn to accept life without Lenny. I think I'm doing OK. I have yet to commit any of the experience of losing my dad to paper, aside from a few hastily scribbled notes during the initial few weeks after his death. Perhaps it's a wound I fear tearing open, even though I know writing is the best tool I have for remembering him, for coping, for continuing to share my dad with the world. I also know it is what he would have encouraged me to do.

Not one for holidays, my dad loved Thanksgiving. Despite his brash nature — almost every new person I meet has a story that starts with, "we didn't get along at first, but..." — he took abundant joy in life, and he was thankful for what he had. What he earned. For his friends, his family, and his beloved community.

As an old farmer, the celebration of Thanksgiving doubled as a celebration of the harvest, and he and his partner Lucy would often cook Thanksgiving meals almost exclusively using ingredients from their ample gardens.

Each year, Thanksgiving prompts us to inventory the things in our life that we are thankful for, and this year that seems a little harder. When I dig below the surface, I can hear my dad telling me all of the things I have to be thankful for: my health, my brothers, my husband, my mom, extended family, Lucy, my amazing friends, dad's amazing friends who I have come to know better during this journey; and for this remarkable community that we shared a wholehearted love for and dedication to. I think that’s probably just a start.

Mostly, I am thankful to be his daughter, even today; even on that fateful day in February that will remain etched in my brain for a lifetime.

When I miss him most, I remember that his blood runs through my veins, I can see his face in the faces of my brothers, and in my own reflection. I can hear his voice regularly and can vividly imagine his remarks in many situations, often provoking fits of laughter. If I am feeling brave, there are hours of filmed select board meetings that I can watch when I want to see him, hear him, remember him in real time. I am thankful for the legacy of community service he impressed upon each of his children, for the work ethic and the discipline that helped shape us as respectful and capable members of society.

I am learning, slowly and often with missteps, to live without him. But I will never, ever stop being thankful for the gifts he instilled in me, including the strength to cry when I need to, to express myself, to be strong and vulnerable at once.

I am thankful for the strength to pick myself up and continue to move forward, always keeping him close in my heart. Always with gratitude.

Jenna Lookner lives in Camden. Her father, Leonard Lookner, passed away Feb. 5, 2017.