Thanksgiving for caregivers is about much more than a calendar date with roasted turkeys and pumpkin pies. It’s a special time for those of us entrusted with caretaking a loved one because it’s a time to remember all that we have to be grateful for. And that gratitude is a way to keep the cup half-full; especially when someone you love is suffering from either a chronic or terminal illness with no cure in sight.
It was at this time of year, four years ago that my former wife, Margaret, first showed symptoms that something wasn’t right physically. We had just come home from a Texas Thanksgiving and neither one of us knew then that pancreatic cancer would reduce our time together to only a few months more.
We went through a lot. Tears, fears, and, finally, acceptance, filled our days and nights. Learning at a rapid pace what we needed to know medically, we also had to take in new insights about how to live the life we shared.
For me being grateful was one of the most important tools I had. It gave me a perspective that aided in coping with what life had dealt us. It did so by helping me shift my focus so that the dark moods of despair I would feel wouldn’t affect others — especially Margaret. Sometimes the gratitude was as simple as having the ability to laugh. I became thankful for laughter that could dispel the heaviness and make it possible for me "to lighten up” from time to time.
Gratitude also allowed me to see more of the good in the world. This is not an easy thing to do when your heart is breaking because you are losing something you love very much. But keeping a list of what I was thankful for made it possible for me to more completely enjoy the moments that all too quickly went by. In some ways focusing on what I had to be thankful for gave me the ability to be more open to what life had to offer – even when I felt helpless to change its course.
Looking back, I see that thanksgiving and gratitude helped me let go with love when the time came and assisted me as I began the healing journey that eventually led me to love again. And for that I give thanks.
J. Dietrich Stroeh, founder of CSW/Stuber-Stroeh Engineering Group in Novato, CA, is author of Three Months: A Caregiving Journey from Heartbreak to Healing (2012 FolkHeart Press). For more information, visit www.threemonthsbook.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.