Reframing Thanksgiving

Ocean Therapy at camp Pendleton

If you could freeze one perfect moment in time, when and what would you choose? Quick…..Close your eyes and just see what comes into your mind. Does it wash over you gently or does it make you shiver and goosebumps appear? Does it bring a tear to your eyes (mine did) or a huge smile to your face (mine did).

That’s the paradox of holidays and perhaps no other holiday has the intrinsic power that comes covered in turkey gravy and pumpkin pie. Use all your senses, breathe in and smell those unique aromas wafting in from the kitchen, is your mouth watering? (Mine is!) Ahhh, Thanksgiving.

I’ve shared our best Thanksgiving with you all, many times. I could re-share it every year, for the happiness and warmth it gives me, each and every time I retell that Thanksgiving trip to Puerto Escondido with the family. Up at before dawn, caught our dinner by 10 am, fresh fish on the beach with Jimmy’s friends and our boatmen and their families. I can feel Jimmy’s strong arms around me as I caught and released an indigo blue and emerald sailfish after a mighty battle to land him. “The meaning of life is to find your gift (the fish) and the purpose of life is to give it away (sending back to the ocean).” I remember thinking that life just could not get any better. That was November 2003. Twenty years ago. I see those words I just wrote and still can’t believe it’s so.

November 2023 brings twenty years of memories that do not include Jimmy’s physical presence with us, although as I write this, I am surrounded by cherished family photos. Jimmy’s spirit and life force live on through the Jimmy Miller Memorial Foundation and through the happy expressions on Austin’s face, which remind me of his Uncle Jimmy and Jim. When Riley laughs and her eyebrows move just so…I can see Jimmy and when she explains some technical item to me, I can sure hear him. Patient, but with the hope I will get the concept quickly. I hear him and feel him in Jeff, as he sighs, “oh mom!” or gives me the quick side hug. Lucky for me, Alissa is a great hugger, just like Jimmy. Easy to be thankful with my wonderful family.

Ocean Therapy at camp Pendleton

This year has taught us to love deeply and stay in that moment completely. We never know what is around the corner or just hours away. As many times as I remind myself that I am grateful for the 35 years we had Jimmy, or the time that Kevin shared with us, the flip side is, it just wasn’t enough. It’s been a year since we lost our beloved Kyle, and just a few months since Talia, Pat, Ricochet and Judy left this world. Am I thankful they all were the fabric of my life and not a day goes by that I don’t think of them? You betcha! I give thanks for their lives and gratitude from the lessons I learned from each of them.

Let’s celebrate the little victories and the huge life-changing events that occurred this year for JMMF. Let’s celebrate the supporters like Verge, who opened his heart and historic home on the beach in Santa Monica, and welcomed our South Bay bus of happy poker players, ready and willing to play for a cause.

Huge hugs and hi 5’s for every Marine, Vet, special needs young adult, health care worker, or child who stood up for the first time, after learning that falling down and getting back up are just part of the process….for surfing and for life. Let’s say good-bye and good luck our Marines who will take their memories and new skills to their new homes and lives. There are lakes in the Midwest and in Utah and there are always arms to welcome you home when you visit. All thanks to the 325+ people at the BeneFiesta when only half of you had chairs and tables. You managed to party on, and support JMMF at the most successful event in 20 years. “Thanks so much,” are hardly enough words for the volunteers who always show up, session after session and season after season. There is no way JMMF could operate and help heal, without you. “Gray May.” “June Gloom.” More than 65 consecutive days without sunny skies did not daunt our dedicated crews in Manhattan Beach, Camp Pendleton, Ponto Beach, Ventura and up to Oregon. For the beach crew, led by the multi-talented and loving Pam Sousa, we simply could not have done it without your guidance and competence this year. For our safety team of Tyus, Russ and Sam, and for our social media maven Emily, you guys rock! To our therapists: Nick, Haley, Jess, Kat, Zack, and Brendan, you jumped in this May and kept our participants safe, informed and inspired, on the beach and in the surf. Diana, Dawn, the Pendleton crew, the NCL’s, Amigos, Sandpipers and Rotary, you have gone above and beyond. Shout out to Chris and Jason and the Camp Surf crew, who have shared equipment and rides, love and support for JMMF from the very beginning. We are starting a new chapter this year, as the funds we raised at the BeneFiesta allowed us to buy our very first JMMF Surf Van and say good-bye to Old and New Bessie! I have an idea….let’s have a contest to name our new van!! If you have read this far, please help us come up with a new name and send it to:

Looking forward, I can remember a time when I could not even conceive of “looking forward.” I can remember the first Thanksgiving without Jimmy, and how it was a paradox to give thanks for anything. For all my dear friends who will experience an empty place at the table this year, I know one thing to be true. This feeling will change and soften as the years go by. The joy and gratitude will return gently, and catch you unaware. You will be able to talk about those favorite holidays without a knife in your heart, but with a smile on your face. The memories you will make from this year on, will be the tiny building blocks of healing. This week, while preparing for our Miller/Morris Spend-the-Night Thanksgiving, I will think of the gifts the years have brought to all of us. From the new egg faces, Alissa’s giant crudité platter, Aunt Debbie’s wicked martini’s, Jim’s cranberry Margies, and Scotty’s lobster mac and cheese, to the “helping hands of love” and the Thanksgiving Haiku from last year, we have created new family traditions. I can look back with love and longing, but I look forward to this year and the years to come, and say “Thank YOU” to family, friends, the JMMF long-serving board members, our staff, volunteers, supporters, donors, military, healthcare workers, at-promise youth and so many more who have brightened our lives this year.

Before we dive into the turkey and after the toasts, I’ll be the one with my teary eyes shut, but a huge smile of gratitude and faith in the future. I hope that includes seeing or hearing from you all!!

Happy Thanksgiving

With Love,


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