Nov. 23 2018 10:00 AM

There is an empty chair at the holiday table, and I won't lie — it's hard.

Even though there were many holidays I wasn't able to spend with my parents after moving east, my parents still made their presence felt with phone calls, greeting cards, prayers, and laughter.

In 2001, Scott and I drove across the country, post-September 11, 2001, so he could meet my family. While his extended family is large, he got to meet my large, immediate family — all at once. He quickly found a spot at the table and a place in my family's heart.

The last Thanksgiving we all gathered around the (Oregon) table was a decade ago. My father had a massive stroke just a couple days before Thanksgiving. I still recall us wheeling my ill mother, wrapped with warm blankets and hooked to oxygen, into my father's ICU room. She held his hand and said a prayer. She was physically weak but spiritually strong.

It's almost a blur, wondering how we got through that Thanksgiving with Dad lying in the ICU, fighting for his life. But, somehow, through the grace of God, we did.

Three years later, we all gathered to be with Dad after we had lost mom that spring. Kids laughed, we all ate (Tyler recalls it was the best prime rib dinner ever), we cried, and we told stories. It was kind of a blur, but somehow we got through it.

Now that both my parents are gone, the heartache enlarges around the holidays. My parents, despite all the hardships they faced, always found amazing strength and gratitude.

There is something about the holidays that brings back feelings of love and loss as you look around the table. There are some forms of therapy that I've found to be helpful:

My daughter, Cassie, and I at our first Turkey Trot 5K five years ago. Keeping the tradition alive, we both laced up and ran again this Thanksgiving.

Reminisce! It can make you laugh and cry, both of which are good for the heart.

Make new memories. Whatever they might be. Look into kids' eyes and take in their innocence, watch hardworking men relax, enjoy the warmth by the fireplace, take a nap, or indulge with a piece of pie or a glass of wine. Play a game of football or run a race. Play checkers. Call a loved one. Kiss your spouse.

Do for others. Treat people how you want to be treated in return. Many can use your help this time of year. Offer to go shopping for the elderly. Sit with a lonely neighbor. Anonymously purchase groceries for a family in need. Bake extra cookies to give to hardworking people. Pray.

Cling to Jesus and His word.

Focus on the good in the world. Despite what many might think, there is lots of goodness out there. For all of you who warm my heart with your genuine love, support, and friendship, thank you. My cup runs over with gratitude.

Karen Bohnert

Karen Bohnert is a second-generation dairy farmer, born and raised on her family dairy in Oregon and moved east after graduating from Oregon State University. Karen and her husband work in partnership with family, and they along with their three children live and work on the family's 500 Jersey cow dairy in East Moline, Ill. Karen's pride and love for dairy could fill a barn, and she actively promotes dairy anyway she can.