Surviving our worst Thanksgiving day

Have you ever noticed that most of us remember our worst Thanksgiving? When our turkey was burnt or we were too sick on Turkey Day, we could only eat a biscuit. The truth is, some people will experience their first and worst Thanksgiving of the year. However, I pray that they keep the faith because a secret is hidden amid difficulty or pain.

Years ago, right before Thanksgiving in the early 80’s, I was hospitalized due to severe exhaustion. I didn’t burn the turkey. Instead, I was the one who got burned – mentally and physically. It was a terrible time of grief and distress. If I tried to do any chore, my heart would race, and my head would pound as if my thirty-year-old body was giving in or tuning.

At the time, I was newly divorced with three young children looking forward to Thanksgiving. The dog gave birth to pups, my turkey was defrosting in the fridge, and my recipes were scattered among my worksheets and laundry. However, it was the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving Thursday, and I was staring at the ceiling of my hospital room.

Fortunately, my children were safe in their father’s care and traveled to their grandparents’ home miles away to celebrate the day. Mom and Dad planned to drive north from their home in Florida after Thanksgiving to help out. There weren’t any family members living nearby, and I experienced Thanksgiving alone for the first time.

Tears started to stream down my face and turned into heavy rain. A nurse entered my room and sat on the edge of my bed. She said nothing but held my hand tightly until my tears dried, and she fell into a deep sleep.

As the dreaded Thanksgiving morning began, I prayed that God would somehow speed up the day for those of us who were in the hospital, and it would end. Yet every minute seemed like an hour, and the only thing I was going fast was my racing heartbeat.

When it was time for lunch, the nurse came to my room with a wheelchair. “Jump in, girl; we’ll have Thanksgiving dinner!” I commanded cheerfully.

“I don’t feel like it.” I answered calmly.

She was a rather intimidating nurse with a stern demeanor, and when she said, “You don’t have a choice!” I knew I didn’t. With a frown on my face and tears beginning to gather, she took me into a room where there were several round tables covered with white tablecloths.

Each table is decorated with a turkey made of cardboard of different colors and a small vase with a single flower. Most of the patients had families with young children who joined them. Around my table, with its purple and paper centerpiece and turkey, sat those of us who had no family, besides the nurse.

I took a deep breath and prayed for help to escape the utter loneliness and overwhelming gloom. I never felt so blessed when we thanked God for our blessings. And looking at their faces, no one else sitting with me did.

When I tried to eat the turkey cafeteria and dress up, I studied the people next to me. We were a group of strangers with individual stories and different ailments. And we were of all diverse ages and races, living different lives. Still, we were holding hands and thanking God for everything we had.

Out of the blue—and to this day, I have no idea why—I suddenly remember that it was my responsibility to spread cheer to this deserted group. To my utter surprise, by the time the tasteless pecan pie was served, our wheelchairs were rocking with laughter.

Two weeks later, I came home, life resumed, and Thanksgiving was never the same again. Every year when November’s special Thursday rolls around, I’m always reminded of the purple paper turkey on the hospital dining table while I decorate my table with candles and cornucopia. Every time I say the Thanksgiving Prayer, I thank God for the laughter He has given me on my saddest holiday. When I see my family gathered around the Thanksgiving table, I remember the strangers who once held my hand in prayer. It was the faith we all embraced on that terrible day that eased our pain and turned strangers into friends.

As we remember our blessings this Thanksgiving and every Thanksgiving, let us also offer compassionate prayers for those in sickness, homelessness, or grief.

My worst Thanksgiving has made me even more appreciative of all the holidays that will follow, and I am so grateful to God for holding my hand through them all.

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