Reflections on Thanksgiving and the Circle of Life–2015

This is one of the few times in decades that Thanksgiving dinner has not been at our home. Now that Sr. Advisor R has died the celebration has passed to the younger generation (in their 40’s). And they upheld the tradition beautifully this year.

I vividly remember the old days, working at the high school until noon the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, then scrambling to launch into preparations for the big dinner Thursday. The women–my mother, m-i-l and I– worked late at night in our bathrobes in the kitchen–enjoying special time together as we readied everything but the turkey for the next day.

Now the younger generation–(both husband and wife work as did my husband and I)–loves to cook. They prepare Thanksgiving dinner together–with a little day-time help from a mother and aunt. They have children (1 1/2 and 3 1/2).  Relinquishing the Thanksgiving responsibility was welcomed by me, probably a bit dreaded by them; but the result was a most successful transition.

Being with family, having no pressure, and having little kids who are entertaining and fun– not crying or having melt-downs–is a pleasure.


Things change. Our dining room table, decorated in past years with boughs, fruit, candles and autumn leaves–the latter with the names of those present and dearly departed–now displays yet-to-be-put-away memorabilia and small items from my mil’s (Sr. Advisor R’s) home.

Our houseguests leave tomorrow. For old time’s sake I will gently take the saved, dried autumn leaves from their plastic bag in the drawer and view the names of those who have passed on. They were family or friends who were like family and–as they came together for Thanksgiving at our home–created a special warmth that enriched our lives.

A new tradition begins.

Every twist of the  kaleidoscope moves us all in turn.–Elton John

Aging Parents: Control and Respect–Do We Inadvertently Mess Up at Thanksgiving (and other times)?

                                        You may have received the Thanksgiving forward below–or not…

In any case, I share it. Supposedly it’s from a grandmother. Disregarding its length and the possibility that a non-grandmother created it, it conveys an important message–irreverently highlighting elders’ values–exaggerating basic, irksome things younger people, whether adult children or beloved grandchildren, do. Even if we don’t get caught up in the specifics or the humor, the need for elders to have control and respect comes through loud and clear.

I’ve become even more keenly aware recently. For Senior Advisor R, now 101, life has become hard work. There may be no other 101-year-old in this country who still lives alone in her own home of 65+ years, getting regular help only 4 hours a week from a cleaning person. Admittedly neighbors on both sides and across the street discretely watch out for her 24/7. I’ve written about this previously. They treasure her.

Maintaining control–basically of her well-being now, is her occupation. She wants to do things her way and resents what she considers interference from us or anyone else.The elasticity of her younger years is gone. Yet her appreciation of and concern for others continues and has always endeared people to her.

She is frazzled by anything that disrupts her routine–no deviation unless necessary; no unasked-for gifts (clutter); no surprises or unannounced visits–even from her 2-year-old great niece (her home is not childproof, she values her possessions); or from her son coming unexpectedly to do an errand she requested.

She considers it disrespectful.  She calls it “thoughtless” for people to take it for granted that she’s home so they can just drop in; or they talk too long on the phone, tiring her out because she can’t gracefully end the conversation; or they leave a gift on her doorstep that’s heavy (for her) to lift or requires additional care on her part. (Avoid giving any box filled with styrofoamish “peanuts.”)

Self-esteem. Dignity: so important in aging well. Being respected reinforces self-esteem. With a shrinking network of contacts, as people age, there’s a loss of the positive feedback from others that most of us regularly get often without even realizing it. We do a job well (we know and so does our boss or the people we do it for); we get the compliments; our dog greets us as if we’re the best person in the world.

And of course there’s the need for control, for feeling independent. ‘Nuf said.

Grandma’s Letter

Dear Family,

I’m not dead yet. Thanksgiving is still important to me. If being in my Last Will and Testament is important to you, then you might consider being with me for my favorite holiday.
Dinner is at 2:00. NOT 2:15. NOT 2:05. Two 2:00.
Arrive late and you get what’s left over.
Last year, that moron Marshall fried a turkey in one of those contraptions and practically burned the deck off the house. This year, the only peanut oil used to make the meal will be from the secret scoop of peanut butter I add to the carrot soup.
Jonathan, your last new wife was an idiot. You don’t arrive at someone’s house on Thanksgiving needing to use the oven and the stove. Honest to God, I thought you might have learned after two wives – date them longer and save us all the agony of another divorce.
Now, the house rules are slightly different. This year because I have decided that 47% of you don’t know how to take care of nice things. Paper plates and red Solo cups might be bad for the environment, but I’ll be gone soon and that will be your problem to deal with.
House Rules:
1. The University of Texas no longer plays Texas A&M. The television stays off during the meal.
2. The “no cans for kids” rule still exists. We are using 2 liter bottles because your children still open a third can before finishing the first two. Parents can fill a child’s cup when it is empty. All of the cups have names on them and I’ll be paying close attention to refills.
3. Chloe, last year we were at Trudy’s house and I looked the other way when your Jell-O salad showed up. This year, if Jell-O salad comes in the front door it will go right back out the back door with the garbage. Save yourself some time, honey. You’ve never been a good cook and you shouldn’t bring something that wiggles more than you. Buy something from the bakery.
4. Grandmothers give grandchildren cookies and candy. That is a fact of life. Your children can eat healthy at your home. At my home, they can eat whatever they like as long as they finish it.
5. I cook with bacon and bacon grease. That’s nothing new. Your being a vegetarian doesn’t change the fact that stuffing without bacon is like egg salad without eggs. Even the green bean casserole has a little bacon grease in it. That’s why it tastes so good. Not eating bacon is just not natural. And as far as being healthy… look at me. I’ve outlived almost everyone I know.
6. Salad at Thanksgiving is a waste of space.
7. I do not like cell phones. Leave them in the car.
8. I do not like video cameras. There will be 32 people here. I am sure you can capture lots of memories without the camera pointed at me.
9.Being a mother means you have to actually pay attention to the kids. I have nice things and I don’t put them away just because company is coming over. Mary, watch your kids and I’ll watch my things.
10. Rhonda, a cat that requires a shot twice a day is a cat that has lived too many lives. I think staying home to care for the cat is your way of letting me know that I have lived too many lives too. I can live with that. Can you?
11. Words mean things. I say what I mean. Let me repeat: You don’t need to bring anything means you don’t need to bring anything. And if I did tell you to bring something, bring it in the quantity I said. Really, this doesn’t have to be difficult.
12. Dominos and cards are better than anything that requires a battery or an on/off switch. That was true when you were kids and it’s true now that you have kids.
13. Showing up for Thanksgiving guarantees presents at Christmas. Not showing up guarantees a card that may or may not be signed.
14. In memory of your Grandfather, the back fridge will be filled with beer. Drink until it is gone. I prefer wine anyway. But one from each family needs to be the designated driver.
I really mean all.
Love You,

“Many a true word has been spoken in jest”–from an old adage

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities and respected professionals, plus practical information–to help parents age well.

Sense of Purpose: A Gift for Aging Parents–at Thanksgiving, Chanukah and Beyond

Thanksgivng 2013

I think everyone would agree: having a sense of purpose is essential to feeling good about life. The big question: How do we instill a sense of purpose in aging parents who no longer have it?

Do remember, those who never had it will no doubt never get it–
People Change, Not Much.

I recently read a short blurb about the importance of having sense of purpose. While there’s a chapter in my book about it, I haven’t addressed it directly in my posts. They have focused more on the positive feelings that come from being needed. So here goes–

First, when older people are married, there is someone in their life, whether healthy or sick…there’s purpose. So we’re talking about elders living alone. And it may take more than superficial thinking to instill a sense of purpose in aging parents who have lost it.

Next: Think about parents’ strengths/talents– objective and touchy-feely: eg. dexterity (talent fixing things), cooking, knitting, gardening, musical ability as well as patience, empathy, caring about certain things…. We may need to go back in time, remembering what they enjoyed/cared about when younger.

Then decide: can we renew and/or support sense of purpose?–or does it need to come from somewhere else?

Now: Think creatively and in a macro, big-picture way–for example:

The most universal sense of purpose (the macro) for many will be wanting to maintain independence. What can they do towards that goal?

Example: For Sr. Advisor, R, it has been to keep herself healthy enough to be able to remain in her home. There’s purpose in exercising daily and shopping for her own groceries. The shopping cart provides stability and confidence when walking. Although her shopping takes forever, the entire experience is win-win for her and for us. R gets exercise, uses her brain, makes decisions about needed/wanted food and its cost, and has connections with others…the cashiers know her (told her she was so amazing yesterday, reinforcing self-esteem and good feelings.

Best for us, we can support this–driving R to the grocery store and waiting for her to get what’s on her list–and do our own marketing at the same time. We use our cell phone to take care of other stuff if there’s extra time. If your parent feels, like R, that being on a cell phone is rude, once you know how long a parent’s shopping takes, you needn’t hang around as if they’re not independent enough to be on their own. Ask if they need help, do what’s needed, then wait in the car and go back when you think (s)he’s about finished.

R’s shopping is followed by her putting the groceries away (if they’re heavy, we help) and ultimately cooking for herself and eating healthy.

Additional ways that instill feelings of purpose:
1. Doing for others–volunteering–but it must be meaningful. Old people being with young children in a daycare or school setting can be wonderful. That said, children spread many germs so this won’t work for elders with “ify” immune systems.

2.  Having a pet to care for; but this is can be tricky for older people. A veterinarian offers good information in a past post.

3. Having plants to care for offers an easier alternative to #2 (check out Easy Care Plants)

Thanksgiving is tomorrow as is the first day of Chanukah. Give aging parents a sense of purpose by giving them a task and/or asking for help. I’ve written about the oldest guest stringing the cranberry necklace for the turkey at our Thanksgiving dinners. I’ve written about bringing those in rehab or care facilities home for the holiday meal, including some specific ways aging parents can help.

Lastly, after Thanksgiving brainstorm with friends who have living-alone aging parents for new ideas.

Restoring a sense of purpose is an intangible gift. It helps aging parents feel better, and that makes us feel better.

Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Chanukah

Check out “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities and respected professionals, plus practical information–to help parents age well.

A Nontraditional Thanksgiving Day for Aging Parents This Year?



Menurkey menorah

The last time the first day of Chanukah and Thanksgiving shared the same date was in 1888. Since it won’t happen again for over 75,000 years–give or take a few thousand years (depending on which math genius does the figuring), this is the only year in our lifetime that these holidays overlap for Jewish families. Creative ideas for food and some fashion are already out there. Yet there’s another overlap–

Have any of us missed the ads (or other media discussions) of the “12 top retailers” who will be open for business on Thanksgiving? Some Thursday night; some all day.

Getting a head start on the shortened holiday selling season (when most retailers make most money) may need to be a priority. The economy isn’t great, as we know. Likewise breaking with tradition isn’t great for old/older people when connections at this time are important and eagerly anticipated.

Businesses need to pay their rent/overhead and their workers. Workers may want to take on extra work at this time of year to earn additional money. People want to take advantage of brick and mortar stores’ early sales, to help stay within their budget.  (Who doesn’t like a bargain?) Probably everyone understands the reasons for retail stores deciding to remain open this Thanksgiving –even if they don’t like it.

Older people find change more difficult than those younger. A traditional Thanksgiving is a fond, warm memory for most of us. Can we adapt our Thanksgiving celebration to what looks like a new reality in retailing?

I can only speak for our rather small group–age range 18 months-100 years-old. We are sticking with tradition. We’ll have our traditional Thanksgiving meal as always. Same time; same place. While younger family members may wish to make purchases and take advantage of the sales that day, they can do it–before or after our late-afternoon meal–at brick and mortar stores or online.

Yet “after,” from our experience, is usually a special time to sit around and talk, a time when elders enjoy reminiscing. A time when elders can share and we can learn. A time of togetherness and connections with others–the latter an important factor in helping parents age well.

And so, in spite of religions and the attraction of great bargains, I will make the Thanksgiving meal for family and friends–staying with the traditional once again–for probably the 40th time. What about you?

Related:   feast-article-1.1471942  Food   The turkey menorah  (menurkey menorah) pictured above –video        

Note: “Newsworthy” (right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities and respected others–to help parents age well.


Mobility-Challenged Aging Parents: From Rehab Center to Home for Thanksgiving at 97

The Ingredients to Make it Happen 

Our Thanksgiving celebration, like that of many, brings together family members and one or two very close friends and their families. We span generations. This year the youngest is 5 months old and  R is 99.

R has never missed our Thanksgiving gatherings be they in the East or in the West. But year before last–on September 30th–she broke her hip. Attending Thanksgiving dinner that year was questionable. After hip surgery for a broken femur, doctor’s orders were no weight bearing on leg for 90 days….and she was in a rehab center.

There were times leading up to Thanksgiving when R didn’t think she could make it; but in her heart of hearts she wanted to come. The rehab center people said if she wanted to come, we all would be trained, keeping in mind she could only put weight on her good leg. Here’s how:

1. The physical therapist worked with R, sitting in her wheel chair with brake set, getting up on her good leg, teaching her to make a small turn using both arms and one leg, holding someone’s hands for stability. She kind of hopped on her good leg and turned on her heel so the back of her leg touched the car door frame on the passenger side. Then she lowered herself onto the car seat (body facing opened door) and with her good leg she moved herself around so she was facing forward and ready to go.

2. The physical therapist and R practiced this particular maneuver for several days preceding Thanksgiving. We watched how she did it. We knew R would have no problem leaving the rehab facility because if she was having problems, there were professionals at the rehab facility to help her into the car.

3. The bigger challenge was our helping her out of the car and into her wheel chair, when we got home, then into the house (with carpeted floor) and over to the dining room table. We debated whether she should/could transfer to a chair once at the table; and ultimately decided not to try–if the wheel chair would go up to the table and fit nicely. It did.

4. My husband and I were instructed how to help R get into, then out of, the car. Two memories are better than one. R remembered very well also. We knew what to do, but our insecurity (which it turns out wasn’t necessary) was being able to do the reverse to take R back to rehab. It was important to take R back before she was too tired to do her part.

Although R was clearly tired from the outing, joining everyone for Thanksgiving dinner was uplifting.  We began taking her out for short drives soon after–always affirming for her. It was a mental boost–a reality– that she was making progress.

Since there are several days until Thanksgiving, R’s experience may be useful right now. And since the percentage of older people who can expect to fall and sustain a broken hip is soberingly high, remembering R’s experience could be important in the future.

Obviously talking with the professionals at the rehab center begins the process, which in R’s case, was a jump-start to getting back to normal.

2/20/13 Help! Aging Parents again was 1st runner-up, this time joined by 3 additional  blogs for this honor. Check them and all finalists out on  And many thanks again for your vote.

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?

Specific Thanksgiving Gifts Help Parents and Grandparents Age Well

When I think Thanksgiving, I think Family Togetherness and the many opportunities–gifts actually– to engage, stimulate, connect, enhance self-worth and share love

Three gifts, incorporate the above in various ways and encourage elders’ help

1. Being with family is what aging parents and grandparents say they want most. Stimulation and Connections with Others top the list of factors that help people age well and doesn’t being with family provide this?

To that end, as a far-away-living child, some of my most cherished moments (now memories) are the evenings before many Thanksgivings that I had elders help Into the wee hours of the night,. Mother, my husband’s mother, and I came to the kitchen in our bathrobes and talked while preparing everything we could ahead of time. Until our parents were in their mid-80’s, they flew back east to us to be with us. Later we celebrated in the west, continuing our night-before tradition…even after Mother’s stroke she was able to help in smaller ways.

2. Having feelings of self-worth and competency affirmed. (It’s great to feel useful.)
–Older people can check that the table is set correctly and put out place cards if used.
–They can bring a “dish” that they make–or buy.
–Ask an elder (we ask the oldest with steady hands) to string a cranberry necklace to adorn the turkey (provide string thread, and cranberries).
–Ask for small help in the kitchen.
–If there’s a creative person among the older generation, ask him/her to make the table centerpiece and you can provide flowers, fruits, nuts, vegetables, container and candles when appropriate.
–Some older people just want to hang out in the kitchen and be part of it. Even when almost-90-year-old Mary inadvertently placed a plastic bag on a hot, open oven door and we quickly pulled most of it off–it became a laughable story (not a mini-disaster) for years.
–Some older mothers still want to do it all. Let them, assuming no threat to life and limb exists.  A friend’s 83-year-old mother and father make an annual visit. Her mother cooks/bakes everything; won’t let her daughter or son-in-law in the kitchen, they say. Her daughter’s contribution: the grocery shopping.
–Dad was one of those capable elders who liked to help clean up–with a dish towel, like in the olden days. He always stayed to dry the hand-washed things…a sweet time together for the two of us.

3. Feeling/being valued for wisdom and experience–by caring and loving family members (who show respect for the past).
–We can ask elders to share stories/memories of their childhood and our childhood.
–We can learn about our roots by asking specific questions.
–We can benefit from questions requiring their wisdom.
–We can ask elders to identify people in photos or old photo albums that have become ours.
–We can make memories for all family members if we take, print-out and/or email photos of this Thanksgiving to them (an idea–if framed– for a Christmas/Chanukah gift).

The intangible gifts for our elders are countless, limited only by our creativity (or lack thereof–which is fine–no one’s perfect). In our efforts to help parents and grandparents age well, as my husband’s grandmother said when we tried our best, “Angels can do no more.”