“Good Morning! How are you?”
I quickly recovered from the unexpected greetings from a stranger, stopped in my tracks and wished back – “I am good. A very happy Thanksgiving to you. How are you?”
“I am waiting for my son to come and pick me up”, he said grinning from ear to ear.
“That is so nice. Have a great family time”.
By this time, I had figured out what was going on. I went to the lady sitting in the next sofa with a walker near by. “Good morning. And a very happy Thanksgiving. How are you doing this morning?”
“Happy Thanksgiving to you too. I am waiting for my son in law”.
This morning after my coffee and all that, I told Sharmila that I would go make the rounds in all the three hospices and try to be back before the girls wake up. I was worried that some of the patients may not be able to see their families on Thanksgiving day (some have family well outside the state). I was going to wish them a very happy Thanksgiving and if I found that somebody was not going to get the gift of family presence for one reason or the other, I was going to sit with them and perhaps spend some time with them. I am no family to any one of them but caring and companionship might count in their books, I figured.
As I entered the first hospice, I sensed right away that something was different. There were a lot of the patients sitting in the atrium. Most of them were not in their shabby clothes. And everybody seemed to be wearing a smile. I was briskly walking past them to meet my own friends there when I was stopped by one of those sitting in the atrium. And that is how the conversation above came about.
I went from table to table, sofa to sofa and pretty much wished everybody who was sitting there and it was more or less the same story. Everybody was waiting for their son or daughter or son in law to pick them up and take them to their homes so they could have some family time together on this Thanksgiving day. And without exception, all of them were going to come back the same night.
Finally, I went and visited two of my friends who live in the assisted area side. One – who is my assigned patient was waiting for her daughter to come and wheel her out. The other – the blind old gentleman who is not an assigned patient of mine was super excited. He had a tie on and a tucked in shirt, a vest and the whole nine yards.
“You must be very excited that you are going to see your family today?”, I asked.
“Well. Raj, I am not going to exactly see them”, he said gesturing some air quotes with his fingers. Gosh, that could have been really really awkward for me had he not started laughing – “You know what I mean. I have gone blind. I can’t see. But yes, I am very excited.” Well, everybody was in good mood!!
The scene inside the memory care unit (this is where all the folks with Alzheimer’s Parkinson’s, brain cancer, deep dementia etc stay in secured premises) was a little different. The same wishes from me about Thanksgiving had most of them staring at me. I realized that none of them had any idea that it was Thanksgiving today or had any memory of what Thanksgiving was all about.
Lowell was still relentlessly pacing up and down the corridors in very small steps talking to himself incessantly. Jenny asked me to look at the red birds flying behind my head as a response to my Thanksgiving wishes. Leanne was constantly shaking even as she sat there staring at the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade put up on the TV in the common area.
Then a gentleman walked in and went straight past me and sat next to a lady sleeping on a sofa on the other end of the room. She was a patient there – and I had seen her before but I had never talked to her. After about five minutes, I noticed that the lady was still sleeping and the gentleman was still sitting next to her watching the TV. He looked neither like a patient nor a staff member.
Curiosity got the better of me and I went over to him and introduced myself. Found out that he was that lady’s son. She is not in a situation to go home. She cannot have Thanksgiving dinner with them. She would not even recognize any of the family members. He is the only surviving child of hers. He had come to give her company for a few hours before he went back and joined the rest of the family for their family get together.
My story about learning the true spirit of Thanksgiving and family ties today will not be complete if I did not tell you about another set of people in the hospices – the staff there. Me having my big mouth obviously had to go around wishing them and asking them about their plans. I was really amazed and somewhat taken aback to realize how much adjustments they and their families made to their personal lives to accommodate the far less fortunate patients. As an example, the CNA had completed her Thanksgiving dinner the previous night with her family so she could spend the time taking care of the patients thru the day. Not one of them seemed to betray any frustration for having to work today. If anything, they seemed to be trying harder to make the patients feel happy!
Driving back home – very hungry (I did have one patient who had no family coming – so I landed up spending an hour talking to him and that made me very hungry in the morning) and somewhat overwhelmed, I tried sorting out in my mind the great strength of family ties that binds us together. The wheel bound stranger waiting with a grin on his face for his son to take him home for a few hours, the son who came just to sit by his mom who has lost her ability to understand what a family means, the staff who has chosen to balance the family at home and those that they are family to – their patients…
It is a great thing that at least once a year, we all step back from our daily lives to acknowledge our immediate and often our larger families. In this hustle bustle of modern life, it reminds us about what should be truly important to us.
Happy Thanksgiving y’all!!