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Beacon Senior News

How I survived my worst Thanksgiving, alone

Oct 25, 2021 02:02PM ● By Lynn Gendusa
Empty dining room table with four chairs and fruit bowl in the center, with fall leaves in background

Have you ever noticed that most of us clearly remember our worst Thanksgiving? The time the turkey burned, or when we were so ill we could only stomach a cracker? 

The truth is, some folks will experience their worst Thanksgiving this year (for many, it was last year). However, I hope they take heart, because there’s a secret hidden amid difficulty and pain.

Years ago, just before Thanksgiving in the early 1980s, I was admitted to the hospital for extreme exhaustion. I didn’t burn the turkey; rather, I was the one that was mentally and physically burned out. It was a terrible time when distress and sadness enveloped me. If I attempted any chore, my heart would race and my head would pound as if my 30-something-year-old body were giving up.

At the time, I was newly divorced with three small children who were looking forward to Thanksgiving Day. The dog had given birth to puppies, the turkey was thawing in the fridge, and my recipes were scattered among work papers and laundry. Yet here it was, the Wednesday night before Turkey Day, and I was staring at the ceiling of a hospital room.

Thankfully, my children were safely in their father’s care and traveling to their grandparents’ home miles away to celebrate the day. My mother and father were planning to drive north from their home in Florida after Thanksgiving to help. No other family members lived near me and, for the first time, I faced Thanksgiving alone.

Tears began to stream down my face, turning into downpours. A nurse came into my room and sat on the edge of my bed. She said little, but took my hand and held it tightly until the tears dried and I fell into a deep sleep.

When morning ushered in the dreaded Thanksgiving day, I prayed that God would somehow speed up the time for those of us in the hospital, and it would be over. However, every minute seemed like an hour, and the only thing that was speeding was my racing heart.

When it was time for lunch, the nurse came into my room with a wheelchair. 

“Hop in, girl, we’re going to have Thanksgiving dinner!” she cheerfully commanded.

“I don’t feel like it.” I quietly responded.

She was a somewhat intimidating nurse with a stern demeanor, and when she said, “You don’t have a choice!” I knew I didn’t. 

With a scowl on my face and tears beginning to pool, she took me into a room where several round tables were covered in white tablecloths. Each table was decorated with construction paper turkeys of various colors, and a tiny vase holding a single flower. Most of the patients had families who joined them with small children in tow. Around my table, with its purple paper turkey centerpiece, sat those of us who were without family, plus the nurse.

I took a deep breath and prayed for aid to survive my utter isolation and overwhelming gloom. When we thanked God for our blessings, I didn’t feel very blessed at all. And by the look on their faces, neither did anyone else who was sitting with me.

As I tried to eat the cafeteria turkey and dressing, I studied the folks who were beside me. We were an assembly of strangers with individual stories and various illnesses. We represented all ages, various ethnicities, and lived different lives. Yet, we were holding hands and thanking God for all we had.

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

After two weeks, I returned home and life resumed, but Thanksgiving was never the same again. Every year when that special Thursday rolled around in November and I decorated my table with candles and a cornucopia, I recalled the purple paper turkey on the hospital dining table. Each time I offered a Thanksgiving prayer and thanked God for the laughter He gifted me on my saddest holiday.

When I see my family gathered around our Thanksgiving table, I recall the strangers who once held my hands to pray. It was the faith and gratitude we all embraced that stressful day that eased our pain and turned strangers into friends.

This and every Thanksgiving, when we remember our blessings, let’s also offer a passionate prayer for those suffering from illness, homelessness, loneliness or grief. Because sometimes your worst Thanksgiving can make you more appreciative and thankful for all the holidays that follow. 


Family out of town? Here are tips for celebrating Turkey day by yourself or with others: Friendsgiving and solitary celebrations