Blessings and Memories

As we prepare our homes for the upcoming holiday season, I’m grateful to have one special day set aside to give thanks to God for His many blessings. Gratitude is a daily practice for me, but there is so much in life that I take for granted.

Once Upon a Time

Holidays weren’t always as complicated as they are today. Before the arrival of the internet, cell phones and video games, Thanksgiving was about bringing family together. It was all about the food, the chatter around the table, and friendly football rivalries.

Thanksgiving brings back so many fond childhood memories for me. Sometimes we traveled to my grandparents’ house. Other years we drove to visit my aunts and uncles. My mom was always busy in the kitchen with her sisters, while my brother and I played with cousins we rarely saw. But my dad was always the odd man out. Being an only child, he never seemed comfortable around so many relatives. Making matters worse, he hated football, and that was the only thing on TV after the turkey dinner.

When it was our turn to host Thanksgiving dinner, our living room became a makeshift dining room. Card tables were joined together from one end of the room to the other, laden with fancy glass platters and bowls of delicious foods. There was a lot of laughter, and many stories shared from the “olden days”. It was also a day to catch up on family news while the coffee percolated in the kitchen. Sometimes my dad pulled out his slide projector and we re-visited vacations and holidays from years gone by. (That was social media, 1970’s style.) And he was happy because there was no football. The tables were blocking the view of our black and white TV.

Fast Forward

This year I am looking forward to another Thanksgiving with both children at home with us. Still, it will be a bittersweet day because there will be an empty chair at the table. My mom is no longer able to leave the nursing home to spend holidays with us. Her memory has declined further this past year, and any change in routine can be very stressful. She remembers some faces, but few names. Mom’s absence will be painful, especially for my brother. He has been her caregiver for many years. But in her honor, we will continue one of her favorite Virginia traditions. We will decorate our Christmas tree after dinner.

Life is always changing. I’m sure there will be years with more empty seats around our table. But there will also be years when tables are once again placed end-to-end to accommodate growing families and new friends. There will be laughter and reminiscing about my “olden days” and the ancient technology of the 1990’s, pre-Instagram. And sorry, Dad, but there will always be football.

While we cannot slow the march of time, we can control the pace of our holidays together.

  • Create new family traditions, but hang tight to the old.
  • Play a game together that doesn’t require batteries or a controller.
  • Dust off old photos albums and replay childhood videos.
  • Have that second cup of coffee and another slice of pie.
  • Enjoy the laughter and conversation. (The dishes will wait.)

This Thanksgiving, as I linger over every last bite of turkey, mashed potato and apple pie, I plan to be fully present with my family.

I wish you and your loved ones a Thanksgiving full of grace and abundance.

Fathers and Others

It’s been an eventful weekend for me.

I spent the last three days caring for my brother as he recovers from surgery — or at least that was the plan. He ended up spending a bit longer in the hospital than expected, so my care-giving was redefined. While he was under the watchful eye of doctors and nurses, I cared for his home.

Cleaning House

My brother lives out in the country, about 40 miles away from us. So after I packed my bag, I did what any loving sister would do: I took a trip to Trader Joe’s! I bought some of our favorite snacks and some ingredients to prepare a few healthy meals for him. But when his hospital visit was extended, I decided to stay and enjoy this time alone as a bit of respite for myself.

Yesterday I cleaned his house from top to bottom, and even rearranged his living room to make better use of his space. (With his permission, of course.) In between vacuuming and dusting, I took frequent breaks to sit outside on the patio, swinging on the swing and listening to the birds. It was so peaceful!

In reality, my mind and body both benefitted from the cleaning. And the house looks pretty good too.

Stepping Into the Gap

We lost our father while we were both in our 20’s. It was a horrible blow, especially to Mom. But we clung together for support, and leaned on each other for strength over the years. My brother has been by our mother’s side for over 33 years, stepping in and taking care of what needed to be done. This was especially important when I moved to Virginia.

In so many ways, he took on my dad’s role. He helped with household repairs, financial decisions, and simple day-to-day tasks. And he never complained. Not once. And decades later, he packed up all their belongings and moved Mom closer to us so we could continue to support one another as her health declined.

While my brother is not a father himself, he became father-like in his role. I can never thank him enough. And if our mom had her memory back again, even for one brief moment, I know she would thank him too.

God blessed me with an earthly father, and I miss him so much today. But He also blessed me with a caring big brother to watch over our family when Dad was called home to heaven. Today I am grateful for both.

Happy Father’s Day!