Help Aging Parents: Including Older People With Health (and other issues) At Our Thanksgiving Dinner

Tonight, at dinner with a friend, Thanksgiving was a part of our conversation. My friend and her husband, with no family near, have plans to have Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant. They have invited a good friend in her late 70’s, who has experienced great tragedy this year, to join them. My friend admits it won’t be a joyous, warm and fuzzy occasion. “But how can you not try to make it better for a friend” is her rationale.

My thoughts go back a year. I think about a dear friend from a neighboring garden club, in her mid-80’s, dying of cancer but still very “with it” in a hospice/care facility situation. Her grown kids were caring, smart and wonderful about everything. They even hired someone to be with her during the day to be certain she got the attention she needed. But they were afraid to  have her come to their home for Thanksgiving dinner–even for a few hours.  I believe they feared a health emergency could happen while she was at their home and/or she might be resistant to go back to the care facility.

There was no reason she couldn’t leave the facility for a few hours, according to the woman hired to stay with her during the day. But she couldn’t leave without assistance and her children’s OK . It was a sad situation for all. Probably not that uncommon though. And I sensed when I made my twice-weekly visit, that having to stay in the facility on Thanksgiving was a sobering realization that she’d lost control.

Ruth’s Thanksgiving experiences were the exact opposite. Ruth was one of my closest friend’s grandmother. It wasn’t easy for her daughter–and later grand-daughters who lived near me–to drive almost an hour to get her then bring her to our home then take her back and come back to their home near us. But Ruth looked forward to coming for Thanksgiving. She never came without a little gift and Thanksgiving thank you card that she had made–and with sight in only one eye.

As long as Ruth wanted to come for Thanksgiving, her grandchildren made the effort to bring her. Then one Thanksgiving night it happened. Ruth suddenly fell ill. One of her granddaughters took her to the hospital. It turned out they spent many hours in the emergency room. I’ve forgotten the diagnosis, but Ruth recovered and came back to spend several more Thanksgivings with us–until she died at 93.

A knee-jerk reaction to Ruth’s situation could understandably be “it’s not worth the bother,” “her health issues could spoil dinner,” “we don’t want to make the effort.” Yet it’s probably very little effort, when compared to the effort an old person must make to get ready and come.

Remembering to ask ourselves “What’s the goal” when confronted with these kinds of situations, should help us to make good decisions. We can also ask ourselves “Is it better for them or better for us?” When we do make the effort and see the resulting joy, how could we not want to try?

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