Being in the military it's almost inevitable that at some point in time you will be gone far...far away for the holidays (at least one). I've been gone for Thanksgiving twice. Once while I was at my Advance Individual Training (AIT) after basic in 2009, and when I was deployed to Kosovo in 2012. Both were completely different experiences.

In 2009, our training wasn't to strict as long as you earned your "freedom". During the holidays we were given passes. If you lived close (within 150 miles I think), you could go home and be with your family. If you didn't, well you were stuck on base with a mass made DFAC (dining facility) meal, and all the other people who couldn't go home whether they lived too far, couldn't afford it, or just didn't have that privilege yet. Most of my friends and I just lived too far, but we were the "seniors" of the class so we all had our passes.

Lucky for us my mother had a high school friend she was still in touch with and was looking for a house sitter while she and her husband left to go visit family. I volunteered and asked if it would be ok if a few of my friends could come over so we could make our own thanksgiving dinner. They were more than happy to oblige (our credentials checked out, we were good kids).   So myself and about 4 of my friends went over the night before Thanksgiving to start our preparations; it was going to be the best!

Photo courtesy of Alyson Pelletier
Photo courtesy of Alyson Pelletier

It was probably around 2AM by the time my cheesecake was done, finally time to go to sleep.

Morning came, the owners were getting ready to depart, but first they needed to show one of my friends how to use the grill (because he wanted to grill a turkey as a stipulation for coming). They got it started and all was well until a few minutes later the propane ran out.

Thank goodness for charcoal grills. This one doubled as a propane or charcoal grill so all was not lost! The husband brought over the coal and a container of lighter fluid to get it started. And that's when something dreadfully unexpected happened. There was still so much heat in the grill from the propane that the coals sparked up. When the husband went to put lighter fluid in the spark followed the stream of fluid, to the container, surprising the husband who threw the container backward and it exploded all over my friend setting him on fire.




I was inside at this point not knowing what was going on outside until screaming. They (homeowners and another friend) were able to put the fire out, and bring him to the bath (lukewarm water) while calling the ambulance.

We spent our first Thanksgiving away from home in the Burn ICU at Walter Reed. Sixty percent of his body burned, which meant he'd have to undergo several skin grafts and eventually be medically discharged from the military, before he even got to experience it.

He was there for a long time, but all for not. Once he was in recovery and stable we brought him the food we did happen to make cheesecake, green bean casserole, cranberry and orange relish...better than the hospital food at least.

Though it wasn't how we expected our Thanksgiving would be, we still celebrated it together and I can't think of a time when I was more aware of how thankful I was for the military family we made.

Photo courtesy of Alyson Pelletier
Photo courtesy of Alyson Pelletier

A year later I reflected on the incident and wrote the following. Though I am guilty once again for taking small things for granted, I think the most we can do is try.

Thanksgiving shouldn't be a once a year gig
This time last year, my friends and I sat anxiously in a small hospital waiting room. Then down the hall we heard a familiar voice, and as a hospital bed rolled by the door way we saw our friend in a horrid physical state. Though he probably was in excruciating pain, he kept a smile about his face. I can't imagine what got him through such a difficult time.

One of our friends and I slept in the burn ICU with him and took turns the days we had left to support him.

I cried, heaving, wet, paroxysmal sobs,  for him, for me, for everyone. I just wanted us to have as nice of a Thanksgiving as we could away from our family. Alas, it sucked. However, that Thanksgiving made me stop and think about how often we genuinely appreciate our friends and family.

Seeing him lay on the bed, hooked up to all the machines all gauzed up was my second wake up call (my first was when my best friend Abigail passed away at age 14). Both times I realized how short life can be, how fast something can warp life in such a way you don't think it can ever be normal again. But memories fade, lessons forgotten and obliviousness sets in.

...then another catastrophe.

It's sad to think it takes a traumatic event to make you re-evaluate what is important. This is why I'm writing this. Not only as a subtle reminder to me, but for everyone who reads this...whenever you get a chance just think about something/someone you take for granted and recognize the significance. It shouldn't take life or death situations to usher out thank you to friends or family. It shouldn't take tears for someone to realize they care about you.

I thought not only was this note apropos for today, but in general. We're in such trying times we really need to focus on the things in our life that we have; a family who loves us, friends who support us, pets that make us smile, a roof over our heads, a job, food in the house etc.

Some people aren't as fortunate, but yet they strive to survive. So be thankful everyday that you have the privileged lifestyle you have, and that you can read this on Facebook, on a computer, with internet.

And to everyone who reads this...Thank you"

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