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Rich: This years pie comes bittersweet
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For many years now, Thanksgiving has been my favorite holiday.

It has always been a day of joyful gathering of family at my house, accented with favorite foods, merry fellowship and a time to reflect on our blessings. I have always looked forward to Thanksgiving.

This year I don't.

Oh, I've tried to talk myself into not letting it be overshadowed by what has come and gone over the past year, mainly what has gone and is not coming back. But some things are more easily thought than said and done.

It will be our first holiday with all three of them now departed, having left the sorrows of this vale behind to claim their heavenly rewards. Oh, there have been five members of our close family who have died this year, but three of them - my brother, Mama and Uncle Delbert - always graced my Thanksgiving table with their presence.

They were all there last year. Vividly, I can see them sitting at the kitchen table chatting with great animation as I scrambled around the kitchen, sticking spoons into steaming bowls of food, filling glasses and dropping the pan of biscuits I took from the oven when the heat burned through the mitten.

One of the kids jumped to action and helped me to quickly pick up the scattered biscuits.

"Five second rule!" I yelled as we tossed them back on the pan.

"Did you sweep your floor today?" Mama asked, oblivious to the five second rule, which is said to be scientific not just pragmatic. She was sitting, facing me, her elbows on the table, her chin dropped on the top of her folded hands. A familiar pose.

I threw my shoulders back, tilted my head and smiled.

"As a matter of fact, I did." A beat followed by a wink. "I mopped, too."

Mama nodded. "Good."

Randall was the first to go, making a quick exit from life two weeks later from a massive stroke. It's sad to lose a sibling but it's devastating to see your Mama's heart break over the loss of a child. Seventy five days later, Mama followed, another quick exit brought on by a brain aneurysm.

Five days later, Uncle Delbert discovered he had lung cancer. For the next six months, not a day went by that I wasn't either with him and Aunt Kathleen or on the phone with them. When death called again in August, I felt my heart could take no more.

While sorrow and heartache have been constant in my family's life this past year, we have been blessed as much as we have been hurt.

It is those blessings that have uplifted and carried us forth.

As Mama was always fond of saying, "The good Lord never gives you more than you can bear."

No, but this year he sure bent us double.

Among the many blessings was my niece Nicole's troubled pregnancy where the odds were strongly against her delivering a strong, healthy baby. She delivered two. The Lord taketh, but he also giveth.

In fact, while three were taken from our Thanksgiving celebration, we have added three healthy, beautiful babies: Tyla, Aslyn and Bree. Of course, they're not quite ready for turkey, but that time will come.

Mama died in seconds, in the presence of me and my sister. That was a blessing. I signed a publishing contract for a book on faith. Mama knew and was proud as punch. That was a blessing.

When we say grace, we'll most likely say thanks for the trials and tribulations as well as the blessings. We have grown stronger from them all.

Too, we'll probably add an unusual clause to our Thanksgiving prayer.

We are grateful we are only missing three from the table. Not four.

Funny how life can change how you think. And pray.

Ronda Rich is the Gainesville-based author of "What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should)." Sign up for her newsletter.