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 | Sister Constance Veit, LSP

Finding Ways to Give Thanks

An unexpected headline in the New York Times recently caught my eye: “A Disrupted Thanksgiving Leaves the Turkey Business Guessing.”

The article that followed discussed a question that is, according to the author, on the tip of everyone’s tongue – “Just how many whole turkeys will Americans cook this year for a holiday whose wings have been clipped by the pandemic?”

I don’t know if there was any pun intended, but I found the question quite amusing.

I can’t say that this has been the big question on my mind lately, but I have been thinking ahead and wondering what Thanksgiving and Christmas will look like this year.

Throughout the summer, social distancing regulations were relaxed throughout much of the country, but we are now seeing worrying signs of a COVID-19 second wave.

In the world of long-term care, we still live in a virtual bubble with our elderly residents and essential staff, almost completely cut off from the outside world. Families, volunteers, and our devoted lay associates – who provide companionship, entertainment, and the little extras that make life more pleasant for our frail seniors – have all been barred from our homes since mid-March.

“Our seniors, surely, will know how to find a silver lining and a way of thanking God for his blessings on this ‘disrupted Thanksgiving.’”

We try to take one day at a time, but we are always aware that even a single positive COVID-19 test would send our residents back into isolation. Recently, some of them told me that they expect the holidays to be quite difficult this year, as it is unlikely they will be able to spend time with their loved ones.

Despite having minimal contact with the outside world, we remain mindful of those who have passed away due to COVID-19 and the thousands of loved ones who mourn their loss, as well as those who have lost their jobs or homes, those who struggle everyday to provide for their families, and those who are risking their own lives for others.

What will Thanksgiving mean this year, in the face of so many challenges and so much loss? What will we find to be grateful for? How can we celebrate while our lives are still so thoroughly disrupted, and our wings and spirits remain clipped?

I find answers to these questions in the faces and examples of our elderly residents.

Throughout these last months, we have marveled at how resilient our residents are in the face of daily inconveniences, constantly changing routines and countless unknowns. Although in many cases their bodies are frail, their spirits – and their senses of humor – have remained strong.

What is the secret to their resilience?

As members of the greatest and silent generations, our residents experienced the Great Depression and World War II, as well as tremendous social and technological changes during their long lives.

These two generations are known for their resilience in surviving hardship, their strong work ethic, and their sense of personal responsibility and self-sacrifice. The men and women of the greatest and silent generations have held on to strong values, gratitude and an appreciation for the simpler things in life.

The wartime Thanksgivings of their youth were marked by rationing and shortages of common ingredients such as sugar, meat, and butter. Turkeys were in short supply on the home front because they were shipped overseas so that every member of the U.S. military could have a hot Thanksgiving dinner, no matter where they were stationed.

Gasoline and tire rationing prevented people from traveling long distances by car, and military personnel were given priority on trains, so family gatherings were surely smaller.

The traditional Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was canceled as the famous giant balloons were shredded for scrap rubber, and even college and professional football games were put on hold.

These were the youthful experiences of our seniors – surely, they will know how to find a silver lining and a way of thanking God for his blessings on this “disrupted Thanksgiving.”

The words uttered by their president in 1943 will find an echo in their hearts: “May we on Thanksgiving Day and on every day express our gratitude and zealously devote ourselves to our duties as individuals and as a nation. May each of us dedicate his utmost efforts to … bring[ing] new opportunities for peace and brotherhood among men.”

We Little Sisters are so blessed to share our lives with these elders of the greatest and silent generations!

If you are lucky enough to have members of these generations among your family or neighbors, take some time this “disrupted Thanksgiving” to learn from them and share in their gratitude for the little things in life.

Sister Constance Veit is the national director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor.