A few days ago I was pushing back tears after I found out that both of the families my husband and I usually spend Thanksgiving with had already planned gatherings that aren’t wheelchair accessible. Mom hadn’t been part of those older traditions. She and I lived many states apart for most of my adult life, and we didn’t often make the long journey, but now she’s here and she wants to be part of the action. When both of these families invited us for Thanksgiving last month, neither mentioned that it was okay to bring my mother, which left me wondering and feeling awkward and lost about what to do.
My mom was the one who would always think to invite the hidden people in our childhood small town to dinner who didn’t have a place to go. My sister and I got used to sharing the holiday table with nuns, priests, widows, single neighbors – people old and young who seemed to come out of the shadows. We thought Mom was odd to do this, and weren’t always keen on the idea, but by the end our house was always transformed by the full table of motley characters, and after the last one had finally headed out it seemed a bit too empty.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love harvest time – the last big burst of colorful, nourishing, local foods. I love cooking up a storm and gathering in community. Sharing a good meal is one of my greatest pleasures. And that didn’t come out of a vacuum. My mother always appreciated good food, and still asks me to bring certain seasonal dishes for her at the appropriate time of year. Even when nothing else is registering in her brain, her palate is very much intact.
My mother’s residence does exceptionally well with activities 7 days per week, but has a strange habit of writing this on their activity calendar on every major holiday of the year: “Holiday – No Scheduled Activities”.
I figure they do that to give their staff a break, to let them get away and enjoy much needed respite time with their own families. But it’s really hard on the caregivers during an already stressful time with lots of expectations, to have that vacuum at the residence. If they were having a special meal there, we’d attend with Mom, and then go to our other gatherings later.
Since one of the Thanksgivings my husband and I like to attend to is run by one of my best friends, I called her up and asked her point blank about Mom. She’s hosting a boatload of relatives and friends, making a ton of food, and understandably wants to keep things in her own home. The other group organizer I didn’t ask, assuming it was a similar situation. I actually don’t really expect people to change the location just for someone they barely know, but when her existence isn’t even acknowledged on a big holiday, it hurts.
So now I need to face reality and rework this holiday. I’m done moping about it, feeling sorry for myself, and getting frustrated with the friends and family who hadn’t thought of trying to suggest a way to include my mom. It probably never occurred to them, and isn’t surprising that they would miss this when they’re trying to organize a huge event. So many people in this country are worse off this year and may not have any kind of holiday meal, so my worries seem pretty petty in comparison when I step outside myself and look at the big picture.
So I’ve been looking around for community meals, senior meals, and fantasizing about a dementia-friendly Thanksgiving where a crowd of people in the same predicament could come together in an accessible building and share good food without worrying about all the things a person with dementia might do when it’s time to sit down quietly and use holiday manners. I’ve been asking around at the support groups and senior centers. I even posted this desire on Facebook, hoping someone might spread the word and that my post would reach a caregiver or two in the area with the same need.
So far the only option I’ve come up with is a free community meal at a church in the nearest large city, so this is the plan for now. Most churches are used to people from all walks of life, so if Mom falls asleep in her squash, maybe no one will bat an eye. I’m starting to get excited about supporting this generous event by volunteering the day before to contribute and help prepare food. It’s a free meal this group puts on every year for the giant crowd who shows up.
We’ll take Mom there first, will try not to eat to much and hope she won’t notice, and then we’ll head over to our friends’ place after we drop her off. We’ve done this before, and although it works, I always feel emotionally split in half. But sometimes this is as good as it gets, and Mom can’t handle more than a few hours of socializing anymore, so my head understands, even if my heart is a bit raw.
And how about you other caregivers? What are you doing for Thanksgiving? Are you attending different meals? One with your loved one and one without? Or have you found a way to make it all come together somehow?