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TO BE THANKFUL

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NOTE: This is a little heavy, especially for Thanksgiving. Life can be heavy, though, so here we are.

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

In the immediate aftermath of Iowa's 70-49 win over Northern Illinois on Wednesday night, Fran McCaffery made a sad announcement on behalf of his senior center, Gabriel Olaseni.

We offer our condolences to Gabe and his family. To lose a father at any age is enormously difficult; as young as Gabe is, it's god-awful on a level you'd better hope you never understand.

But a funny thing happens when life deals you such an awful card. In the midst of the grief, the crushing sadness, the alterations of more facets of your life than you could ever expect, you learn to appreciate things you might have once taken for granted, to be thankful for the pockets of air you find in the ocean of mourning.

I know a little bit about what Olaseni is going through, unfortunately. I lost my mother earlier this year. She had been sick, but up and down. The end was swift and brutal, and I've never seen a look on a doctor's face like the one we saw that day. She hung on long enough for immediate family to gather, and for that I am thankful. I don't know if she could hear me tell her goodbye—God, who could know?—but I am grateful I had that chance, that perhaps she did. I'd like to think she did.

Similarly, Benson Olaseni had "been sick for a fairly short time," according to Fran McCaffery. "I think it's unexpected that he would have passed when he did, yes. But I think it was getting to the point where he was pretty sick."

It doesn't surprise me that Olaseni played on Wednesday, and it doesn't surprise me that he played well. It's not that the immediate shock of losing a loved one incapacitates you; the real debilitations of grief come later. No, in those ensuing hours, the absolute last thing you want to do is continue to sit still, to let the grief continue to sink its talons in even deeper. At that point you just want to do anything, and if you can do what it is you're best at—and alongside family, so much the better. And make no mistake: the Iowa basketball team is Olaseni's family.

Brotherhood.

A photo posted by Abodunrin Gabriel Olaseni (@agolaseni) on

I have three very wonderful siblings that call me brother and wrapped their arms around me and loved me this year. For that I'm incredibly thankful. It was impossible to navigate that sadness and stay out of the bottomless black holes without their help. Olaseni has 14 here in Iowa City, and that's not counting the coaches. And, you know, his actual family back home. He's off to see them now. He should take his time.

There's no "getting back to normal" in this for Olaseni. Not 100%. Of course he'll resume classes and get pleasure and productivity out of athletics, and we don't think his future as a basketball player is any dimmer for this. But there is a father-shaped hole in his heart now, and no matter how good a job he does filling it, it'll always be there. Everything's just going to be different from now on. It's a new normal.

I used to think people who said they "think about [insert lost loved one] every day" were (probably unintentionally) exaggerating. Like, "don't you mean practically every day? Maybe it only seems like every day when you look back on it? C'mon." I think about my mother every single day. Usually several times, because when the hole in your heart is that big, the list of things that will remind you of that person is nearly limitless. I can't even drive east on Ingersoll past 31st Street without being reminded of the daily trips to the hospital. The stores she liked, the songs she listened to, the booth at the High Life she made her own, the bright red cushions on the expensive black couch she left me, because she wanted her kids to have her nice things when it was time—the reminders are everywhere. Ghosts aren't real, but this sense of haunting is—this indelible personal attachment to the things around you (attachments you never perceived or even thought to perceive when they were with us), and the greater the person was in your life, the more you see them in more things.

This is not a complaint; indeed, I am thankful for this haunting, because it is what keeps my mother with me and with everyone else who knew her and loved her. And if you carry the things these loved ones taught you and give them to the world, that's their imprint and legacy growing on and on. That's life after death, right there with us every day.

I don't know Benson Olaseni. I'm fairly certain he raised a good kid, one who's not only awfully good at basketball (and only getting better) but one heck of a representative for the University of Iowa on top of that. If that's Benson's doing then he and his legacy will continue to shine bright—first upon Iowa City and the Big Ten, then wherever Olaseni's future takes him. His loss is to be mourned, but his impact is to be celebrated.

And indeed, for everyone who has helped shape us and who is no longer with us today, we are thankful.