Thanksgiving is supposed to be a day of gratitude and family, but sometimes it can turn into a day of bickering and stress. For all of us who no longer have our parents with us, I urge you to put aside the differences and the things about your family that annoy you and focus on the good things.
At the very least, take it as a grand opportunity to record family stories. Don’t be shy; ignore the naysayers. Organizations like StoryCorps have smartphone apps and tools that make capturing family lore easy for anyone.
As I discovered writing The Reluctant Caregiver, there is nothing like have a story recorded in a loved one’s own voice. I found gaps in my memory when trying to recount some family legends.
What is The Great Listen?
The Great Thanksgiving Listen is a national movement that empowers young people—and people of all ages—to create an oral history of the contemporary United States by recording an interview with an elder using the free StoryCorps App.
Download and print The Great Thanksgiving Listen Placemat
Pretend that the Thanksgiving meal is the last time you’ll see a particular elder. (I hope you have many more years with all of your loved ones, but let’s face it, we often take family for granted.) What must you know before they depart this earth? What stories of theirs do you want recorded for posterity? Are there things you wish to share with them, to thank them for? Let them know.
May you have a wonderful Thanksgiving spent with loved ones and friends.
Embed from Getty Images
I’ve never had patience for big family gatherings, probably because I grew up celebrating holidays with just my parents. That helped keep planning and bickering to a minimum. I have particularly happy memories of Thanksgiving, enjoying a humble but delicious meal and watching The Twilight Zone marathon throughout the day.
This year, thanks to the contentious election, I’ve come across several articles offering tips on how to survive the holiday with relatives. While I get that family stress is real, and kept my own visits home as an adult to a minimum, it is a bit sad that we need instruction guides on how to navigate a meal without suffering a nervous breakdown. Winning an argument or criticizing someone else’s viewpoint is more important to some than recognizing common bonds and accepting the imperfections in all of us. (That being said, I do not believe toxic family members should get a free pass; repair relationships where you can but move on when necessary.)
Over the last several years I have been preoccupied with family caregiving, and I witnessed the best and worst from my parents, and from myself. For those who are grieving the loss of a loved one, the holidays are a mixed bag of emotions. I am grateful for the memories of simply, happy Thanksgiving meals with my family, and I hope that all of you find those moments this week with your family and friends.
I discovered recently while having Christmas ornaments made with family photos that my family did not take a lot of holiday pictures.
There were a handful of photos when I was a baby and small child, and then virtually nothing during the rest of my childhood. Of course, back then, we didn’t have the devices that make taking photos and videos so easy now.
It made me a bit sad that there were so few photos of holiday celebrations, but I am thankful I have the memories. There were no fancy Thanksgiving recipes, it was all from boxes and cans, but it was my favorite meal of the year, because it was made with love and it was a meal my parents and I looked forward to so much.
There won’t be any more meals with my parents in this lifetime, but I consider myself fortunate to have such memories.
As I’ve written before I’m sure, Thanksgiving was my dad’s favorite holiday. He loved turkey! My dad was not one to get too excited about food normally, so it was a big deal to watch him devour slice after slice of turkey.
While I can still recall those fond family memories, they are unfortunately overshadowed by that Thanksgiving three years ago. Dad was in the ICU, clinging to life. I was trying to figure out when I should fly out, because I was working the entire holiday weekend. The nurse said he could pass in two hours or two months, there was no telling. As soon as I arrived to work on Black Friday 2011, I received the call from a nurse, frantically asking me if they should pull the plug on my dad’s life support.
I’m now back working in the same newsroom I was that day when I received that terrible call. Every now and then I’ll glance to that corner of the room and remember the pacing I did that day three years ago, trying my best not to completely freak out from the stress. I’m once again working the holiday, but from home this time. Thankfully I won’t have to mark the anniversary of those painful memories at the office.
So Thanksgiving is bittersweet for me. I still enjoy the food and try to focus on the happy memories. Life, and death, does not pause for holidays.
I hope somehow, somewhere, Dad is enjoying a few big slices of turkey.
It has been a strange, bittersweet Thanksgiving holiday for me. I am spending the week with Mom, but now she’s having some troubling health symptoms that we need to go have checked out tomorrow. So she can’t even enjoy any food today, not that we were going to do a traditional feast.
We decided to skip the turkey and fixings, but the memories of past holiday meals linger. We never had the big family gatherings that many other people enjoy. It was just the three of us, so I think we miss his presence even more because it’s such a huge hole in our little family.
By far, Dad’s favorite holiday was Thanksgiving. He loved all of the traditional dishes served on that day, but I think the turkey was his favorite. He would always ask for seconds on that day! I wish Dad could have enjoyed a real turkey one year, as we always bought those little “turkey roasts in a box” since it was just the three of us.
He wasn’t that big on desserts, which left more pumpkin pie for me, which I was just fine with. 🙂
Holidays and illness unfortunately do mix sometimes. It’s just one of those unavoidable facts of life. Thankfully, I’m not that sentimental about holidays, but I can’t help but think about how it’s been one year now that my life has revolved around illness and loss. These life-altering experiences make you reassess your priorities and what is truly meaningful. It also makes me wonder when I see all of the Facebook posts where people so casually give thanks to family and friends. I’m not saying people are not sincere, but it’s so easy to take all of those special people in your life for granted. I’ve certainly been guilty of it. This past year has taught me a difficult, but important lesson.