It’s Saturday morning of the long Thanksgiving weekend. I have a lot for which to be thankful, even if I sometimes have to stop and remind myself of that fact.
I’ve realized that it’s true what they say. You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. When I look back on my life to this point, I can see that my perspective has always been one of thinking there was always more time. Mistakes could be made right in time. Relationships might be mended in the coming year. Things will be better when … I’ll be happy as soon as … We’ll do this after …
I suppose it’s a realization that comes with age, but I’m quickly learning that now is the only time we have. If I want to be happy, content and at peace, now is the time. I can’t wait for a point when I might have more money. None of it depends on whether I have the right car, or the perfect house. It can’t hinge on everyone being everything I expect them to be to me. This world is messy. We have to figure out how to be happy in spite of it.
Life took a turn over the past few months. It began when my dad broke his hip in early September. Since then, there’s been a growing realization that my parents’ time here with us grows more limited by the day. For the past few years, there’s been a gradual role reversal during which my siblings and I have begun to take care of our parents’ needs more than they take care of ours. In the time since my dad’s fall, I’ve worried and cried more than any other time in my life. Our family has struggled more than ever before. Some relationships have pulled closer together. Some have broken apart irreparably. Every day I wonder how many, or how few, more days either of my parents will stay with us.
This Thanksgiving, I reminded myself to be grateful even for those things that didn’t quite meet my expectations. Jaeger came home from Fargo, and Chesney came home from school in Mankato to join the rest of us at home. I had all three of my kids with me at one time, if only for a little while. Chesney arrived home Wednesday afternoon, but had to go back right away on Thursday night. Her job in retail required her to work on Black Friday. I really wished she could stay home for the long weekend. She makes me laugh and lightens the mood no matter what’s going on. But having her for an overnight was better than not having her home at all. It was wonderful to feel the sunshine of her presence in the household, even if it was just for a short time. I’m just happy she goes to school within reasonable driving distance.
Jack had to work on Thanksgiving Day. I can’t even count the number of holidays his job has kept him away from the kids and me and the rest of the family on special days. I used to feel a lot of bitterness about it. It was a lot of years before I thought to be grateful that he was willing to make that sacrifice for us, because it meant he was taking care of his family. How much would we have gone without if it weren’t for all of the years he dedicated himself to a job that kept us fed and clothed? I was grateful that he could join us a little late, and get himself a plate of food while it was still relatively fresh and hot.
The kids and I picked up my parents and brought them with us to my sister’s home on Thanksgiving day. It had been snowing all morning, and there was a small accumulation of snow and ice outside. Jaeger and Ryker walked beside my dad as he went to my car, each holding him by an arm, ready to catch him should he slip and begin to fall. They then did the same for my mom. Dad’s walker was tossed in the back of Jaeger’s truck so Dad would have it at my sister’s if he needed it.
Thanksgiving was different than in years past. One brother and his family were noticeably absent. And Mom and Dad appeared worn out before we’d even left their house. As we all gathered at my sister’s home, we did our best to keep the mood celebratory. But the awareness that Mom and Dad are gradually slipping away from us was never far from my thoughts. I kept an eye on them throughout the day and they seemed tired, sad … We’re moving them out of their town house into an assisted living apartment in the next two weeks, and they’ve reluctantly accepted those circumstances. But they are saddened at the loss of their independence. Every day is a trial for them, a struggle to just get through simple routines like dressing and eating. My dad fights the reality of his circumstances until his body proves to him once again that he can’t win.
Not long after dinner and dessert were over, I asked Mom how they were feeling and she said they were ready to go home as soon as I was willing to take them. Dad was sound asleep in another chair, oblivious to the chaos of holiday laughter and conversation. It used to be that he’d spend holidays wrapped up in conversations with his sons about fishing, vacations, or the best tasting beers. Or he’d sit and lovingly tease his grandkids. Now the grandkids have grown too big for that kind of teasing, and he’s too tired to play along.
There’s a bible verse I stumbled upon a while ago that I think about often.
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances …
It seemed like good advice before such serious issues began to permeate our lives. But I’m trying to remember this verse, every day. It’s not easy. Still, I’m striving to find joy in all that I can. If I don’t, I think sometimes I might just lay down and cry.
So this weekend, I’m grateful … that my parents are surviving another day, that I had some time with all of my kids. Jaeger is here through Sunday with his dog, Dacotah. And Ryker has even stayed home more than he usually does. The Christmas tree is lit and decorated, and the sun is shining today. Also? The dogs didn’t burn down the house while we were gone on Thanksgiving Day, despite their best efforts. But that’s a story for another time.