In the past, I’ve always strived to host Norman Rockwell-type Thanksgiving feasts. Every year I envisioned our children, grandchildren and other family members gathering congenially around our table, enjoying a delicious meal and intelligent conversation while expressing gratitude for our many blessings.
To be perfectly honest, it’s rarely worked out that way. Someone has always shown up late or sick. Inevitably, someone who offered to bring a dish walks through the door at the last minute carrying the ingredients in a grocery sack. And just as the noise level reaches a decibel level that makes the neighbors’ dogs howl, someone else cranks up the volume on the football game to drown out the relative who is hell-bent on debating politics.
I’m a little ashamed of myself for feeling this way, but I have to admit that after doing this 25 or 30 times, the logistics of preparing for and hosting the Thanksgiving meal for a houseful of people (even people I love very much) has lost some of its charm.
Please don’t think I’m not grateful, because I am. Thanksgiving has always been a special holiday for me – now more than ever, because this year I have caregiver gratitude.
What Can Make You Appreciate the Little Things
Last spring, if I had been asked to list the things for which I was grateful, I would have talked about my life on a macro level. I would have said I was thankful for my marriage, our children, grandchildren, friends, home, work, etc.
That was before a vertebrae slipped in my husband’s back and he experienced sudden, excruciating and debilitating pain. In the months it took to get a diagnosis, have surgery and go through the most intense part of his recovery, I learned how incredibly grateful I could be on a micro level.
Before my husband’s pain became the focus of our daily life, it hadn’t occurred to me to be thankful that he could get into or out of bed by himself. I had never given thanks for his ability to wash his own body or dress himself.
It had never occurred to me to be thankful for conversations that weren’t focused on pain levels or bowel functions. I had never thought about how nice it was that he could walk out the front door, bend over and pick up the morning newspaper. Until the pain in his back and legs took over our lives, I took it for granted that when I went to bed at night that I would wake up rested and refreshed the next morning.
I never knew how much I could appreciate friends who called, sent cards, or stopped by for a short visit. My gratitude for the people who brought food was over the moon!
I am aware that my husband and I are luckier than a lot of couples at our age and stage of life. Alex had experienced a health crisis for which there was a cure. We had an excellent surgeon. Competent nurses and compassionate medical staff supported both of us through a difficult recovery. For that I am more grateful than words can express.
It was a rough summer, but we got through it, and as Thanksgiving approaches, I’m thinking about how grateful I am that I married an intelligent, thoughtful, generous man who had the good sense to appreciate and be thankful for the loving care I provided for him. I can only hope that the millions of other care receivers in this country will be able to express gratitude for their caregivers, because caring for someone who is suffering is one of the most difficult jobs we will ever be asked to do, and a little appreciation can go a very long way.
Don’t Take Health For Granted
Although there’s no way of knowing exactly what the future will bring, it’s not likely that we will get stronger or healthier as we age, so I’ve decided to focus on finding joy in every day and being thankful for the multitude of small blessings that I have taken for granted in the past.
I’ve also decided to pass the spatula. I’m not cooking the Thanksgiving feast this year. We are going to be someone else’s guest, and for that I am truly grateful!
Happy Thanksgiving to all family and professional caregivers! And just in case no one has said it lately, thank you for all you do to help those who cannot care for themselves. The work you do and care you provide is appreciated more than you will ever know.
Elaine K Sanchez is a caregiver speaker, author and co-founder of CaregiverHelp.com, a video based caregiver support program. She co-teaches “Gero 407- Caregiving” at Western Oregon University with her husband, Dr. Alex Sanchez. She also writes the daily blog, “Caregiver Help Word of the Day”.