Giving Thanks for Thanksgiving

I’ve managed to live a lot of life in my short, 52 years. And though I’ve been through a lot of change – marriages, divorce, births and deaths – one thing has always remained constant –  I love Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is a day that conjures up emotions and nostalgia. There are no gifts necessary, no strict time-table to follow and if you’re fortunate enough, you’ll be surrounded by family and friends.

I’ve been a guest for Thanksgiving dinner and I’ve hosted many myself, but this Thanksgiving will be especially poignant for me. My parents are back home after being away for the past 20+ years, and with their return has come unwelcome change.

Their return home has been nothing short of bittersweet. My parents have both been diagnosed with Dementia, and as you can imagine, it has been an emotional time for me and my two brothers.

Part of the romance of such a family-centric holiday is the childhood memories we all have. My mom, the dutiful housewife, preparing the much anticipated meal and my dad, the successful but always working businessman, spending quality time with those he loved.  I can remember the electric knife used only on that day to cut the turkey. The jellied cranberry sauce that still held the shape of the can. The variety of sides and best of all, the sausage stuffing. We always got dressed for dinner. We used our best manners, said our prayers, laughed, reminisced and enjoyed the day we had together, and after lots of football and a good nap, we’d come back for more.

I’m learning to accept that my folks are no longer 40. They will forever struggle with remembering things, losing things and missing their friends and the life they left behind. It’s hard. My folks somehow look smaller, a bit more frail and tired. That’s definitely not the way I remembered them from the holidays we shared 20+ years ago.

So I’ve decided that rather than mourn for Thanksgivings past, I thought it healthy to shake things up and do Thanksgiving in a different place and in a different way.

I’ve rented a home on Martha’s Vineyard for my family to come to for the holiday week. My dear friend Julie and her chef- husband Mark, will be preparing Thanksgiving dinner for us the day before so I don’t have to try and juggle work, travel and my folks.

My dad who has always had a love affair with the ocean is so excited to go and walk the beaches during off season. My mom keeps offering to help so I’ll need to find some chores for her to do. It will be different. It won’t be at my home, but I’m hoping to create a new memory and to celebrate these life changes we’ve all experienced this past year. Don’t get me wrong. A week away won’t change the new issues that arise each week while my brothers and I juggle doctors and medications. But it’s my way of saying to Dementia you can’t have Thanksgiving. That day is ours. So back off.

I hope that all of you will also have the opportunity to be with your loved ones, be able to create and years later, cherish the memories you’ve made. It’s tough to watch my parents change literally before my eyes but I’m so thankful that they are still here and happy.

After our holiday week in paradise, life will return to its new normal. We’ll all struggle to figure out just how to navigate this disease known as Dementia.

I like to think that the memories of our new Thanksgiving will help give us that warm and familiar nostalgic feeling, put a smile on our faces, and be the memory we now have of a day that’s truly meant to be shared, remembered and thankful for.

A Happy and safe Thanksgiving to you all.  T