Carol Silver Elliott

Remembering gratitude

There is really no way to miss the fact that it’s Thanksgiving season. From the media to the grocery stores, signs of the holiday are everywhere. We can learn how to make or buy the perfect turkey, create unique side dishes and set a lovely table. We can even get advice on how to navigate a family dinner when the family does not always get along or see things eye to eye.

But what seems to get lost in the shuffle is the element of “thanks” that is, in name at least, part of this holiday. Are we really giving thanks or are we just focused on consuming a big meal and sitting around watching football?

Don’t get me wrong. As the person who generally cooks that big meal, a lot of my energy is consumed for weeks in advance with the meal itself. I like to do different things every year, try new recipes, mix it up. I love making way more desserts than anyone can eat and seeing the table overloaded with food. That’s both fun for me and, my husband would say, the way I choose to make myself crazy!

But there are moments, in the midst of the planning and cooking, in the setting of the table and serving of food and, certainly, in looking around at the faces of people I love, when I stop and truly feel grateful. I am grateful that I have the ability to feed my loved ones, that I have the time and strength and resources to do it. I am grateful for the joy it brings me to be with my family, to share the laughter as well as the food. I am grateful for the memories that come to me, of holidays past and loved ones who are no longer with us.

When we have older adults in our lives, when we have loved ones who are ill, when we have experienced losses, it is easy to get caught up in “if only.” It is easy to think about, and focus on, what we don’t have, what we wish and what we miss. At those moments, it is hard to focus on being grateful. I know. But I would contend that it is even more important to remember to hold onto all that we are grateful for, all that we can and should give thanks for in our lives.

I am not suggesting that we close our eyes to reality or pretend that things in our lives are perfect when they are not, when they are different from what we have known, different from what we expected. But if we put the pain aside, we can often remember the good. I am reminded of a moment after my mother died. I was 25 and both unprepared and ill-equipped for this loss. I had seen her in the last weeks and months as cancer took its toll. I had seen her just days before she died, oxygen tubes in her nose, still herself in every way but clearly physically diminished. When the rabbi came to my parent’s home to talk about the service and about her life, he exhorted us to remember the good times. In truth, at that moment and for months beyond, that was impossible. All I could see was the last image I held in my mind. All I could think about was the hole in my life that would never be filled, the wound that would never heal.

As time went on, though, the good memories did reappear. And I began to realize that, while the sense of loss did not and would not disappear, I could find reasons for gratitude. I am grateful for the years that I did have, I am grateful that she had a chance to hold and love her first grandchild, I am grateful for the lessons of her kindness and patience and love.

This season of giving thanks may we all find ways to bring gratitude into our lives, our hearts and our homes. May we be aware of all that we have to be thankful for and let that attitude of gratitude prevail.

About the Author
Carol Silver Elliott is President and CEO of The Jewish Home Family, which runs NJ's Jewish Home at Rockleigh, Jewish Home Assisted Living, Jewish Home Foundation and Jewish Home at Home. She joined The Jewish Home Family in 2014. Previously, she served as President and CEO of Cedar Village Retirement Community in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is past chair of LeadingAge and the Association of Jewish Aging Services.
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