Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. I think it’s because it’s not about some over-commercialized holiday, or decorations, or some big event. It’s a low-stress day filled with great food and awesome family time.

I love our family traditions. Everyone has a special dish they cook every year. The menu never changes. It’s absolutely perfect the way it is. Each dish compliments the others perfectly. When I think of Thanksgiving, I can almost taste Pa-Pa’s dressing or Cindy’s broccoli and cheese casserole or Mom’s sweet potatoes. This is the kind of food you wait an entire year for.

But this year is different…

Several weeks ago, my sweet grandmother fell and broke her hip. She had surgery to repair it and has been in a rehabilitation center since then. I knew this Thanksgiving would likely be a little different than usual, but I assumed it would include picking Ma-Ma up from the nursing home, taking her to Cindy’s house for Thanksgiving lunch, and taking her back to the nursing home later. (My grandfather was in the same nursing home a few years ago at Christmas after surgery for colon cancer, and that’s what we did that day.)

But this morning, my mom told me our Thanksgiving plans, and my heart sank…

We will all go to the nursing home, eat the Thanksgiving lunch provided by the nursing home kitchen, and spend the day there. I repeat: Nursing home food. In case you need more clarity…this is NOT the kind of food you wait all year for. This is like, one step up from airplane food. Barely. It’s pretty much in the same category as hospital food.

So this Thanksgiving – for the first time in my nearly 26 years of life – we will not be eating Pa-Pa’s dressing or Cindy’s broccoli and cheese casserole or Mom’s sweet potatoes.

But my disappointment is not as much about the food as it is about tradition. (Though, I will admit, it is partly because of the food…) Some of my favorite family memories come from sitting around the big round table at Thanksgiving: Jonathan’s plate full of turkey and rolls (he always had to “take a break” before finishing his plate…but he always finished!). 5 of us piled up in the bed after lunch, talking and laughing, and too full to get out of bed. My Pa-Pa sitting in the kitchen tasting the dressing as my mom prepares it, to make sure she adds the perfect amount of pepper.

As my mom told me about our different Thanksgiving plans this morning, it really caused me to search my heart. WHY was I so upset about not having our normal family Thanksgiving? Why did it bother me so much that this year would be different from every other Thanksgiving our family has ever had together? Why am I so attached to our traditions?

Part of it is because I simply don’t like change. This is the way it’s always been, and I always assumed that’s the way it would stay.

Part of it is because I haven’t wanted to face the realities of my aging grandparents. They are the only grandparents I’ve ever known, and it is very difficult for me to imagine them in any way other than the ornery old man who likes to joke and tell stories and give financial advice and play 42 and poker, and the sweet, gentle woman who loved to bake cookies with me and teach me how to paint and talk about birds. But the reality is, he is nearly blind and has a hard time getting around, and her memory has slipped away so quickly, it scares me. She’s in so much pain all the time and I want to bawl my eyes out when I think about it.

But sometimes we have to face things we don’t want to face. We have to confront issues and embrace changes and experience unpleasant things. Sometimes we can accept these things and move on. And sometimes there are rivers of tears involved.

So today, I am choosing to be grateful that my family will be together this Thanksgiving. We won’t be around Cindy’s big round table, but we will be together, under one roof. And that’s all that really matters.

As strange as it may seem, I think I’m finally learning what it means to be truly thankful…for family, for love, for life.

My heart is heavy, but it is thankful. My heart is hurting, but it is blessed beyond measure.

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