This year tragedy struck our family, calling into question my spiritual certitude. In the cruelest of blows, my 25-year-old son was killed, the victim of a drunk driver. My boy preceded me into death. That's not supposed to happen. Suddenly, eternity looms near.

A ringing telephone jarred me awake that night. With it, came the horrible news. Shock and disbelief set in. Reflexively, I dropped my head in prayer.

Tears flowed in the days ahead. Self-control, long my strong suit, became a memory. The routine and order of our lives was rent asunder.

Arrangements had to be made. The family grieved.

The flood of condolences that came from hundreds who elected to stand beside us and share our pain overwhelmed me. Their heartfelt expressions humbled and amazed me.

Seven months later, I continue to deal with feelings of loss and guilt. Grieving, for us, is not over. (2012 update: And it won't be this side of eternity.)

But — and I'm incapable of fully understanding this — I feel a thankfulness today that is greater than what I've ever experienced before. A thankfulness directed toward God and my community.

I'm grateful to my Heavenly Father for his love and enduring presence. I thank him for my son, who taught me lessons about tolerance and compassion.

I am thankful for my three daughters, who love me unconditionally. I'm thankful for my wife, who's been with me every step of the way. I'm thankful for my parents, who in many respects have suffered the most.

And, I'm thankful for the friends who showered us with compassion and love.

Cultivate thankfulness in your life this holiday season.

JIM CARNETT lives in Costa Mesa. His column runs Wednesdays.