As I’m sure it was for so many this year, Thanksgiving was a bit sad and a bit surreal. I wanted badly to have as normal a holiday as possible after months of living with the pandemic, even though it would just be Dan and I on the guest list. We planned and cooked a big meal, I set the table with the good China and lit candles. Everything looked normal, except for the missing loved ones. 2020 had other plans, though.
I got going early and made a banana bread for Mom’s buddy Linda at The Home for Wayward Seniors who just had shoulder replacement surgery, taking Marley for a good walk as it baked. There is nothing like the smell of the house on Thanksgiving Day, so many wonderful aromas wafting everywhere. Up next would be trying a new apple cobbler recipe, one of Dan’s favorite holiday desserts (I’ll include a link to the recipe below). I have always been a pretty good baker, but regular cooking, not so much. I have a long history of sketchy culinary mishaps, one of the worst (or funniest) being the infamous turkey ass stuffing. I wondered why the cavity for the dressing was so small…
Dan has always been the cook of the family. It has been a great passion of his and I have been so grateful to clean up any mess he makes while he creates wonderful meals for us. He has always researched, making every detail important, the results delicious. We were team cooking today, but I began to notice that Dan was not quite himself. He seemed very stressed about the simplest of things, my usually upbeat husband sounding very dark, all of it directed at himself. He and I are both huge empaths and I started soaking up the negativity. What was a fun morning of cooking became stressful and I felt tears at the ready.
Since Dan had Covid in April and spent a horrible eight days in the hospital, I have seen this shift in his outlook, though it had been much improved until the holiday. Covid can have many serious side effects, attacking organs in the body- including the brain. We both had post-Covid brain fog, shortness of breath, and fatigue, but Dan’s experience was much worse. He began having memory issues and telling me that he wasn’t the same person anymore, and I noticed that he repeated himself a lot. He went for extensive tests at UAB, but never received any follow-up except that he had had some shrinkage in his frontal lobe.
My husband has always been sharp as a tack, running two very successful performing arts centers over his long career, teaching yoga classes, running our home and projects with military precision. He has noticed the changes taking place, and it frightens him. He confided to me that he has lost his passion for cooking and so many other things that he used to love, and it makes him deeply sad. He has reached out to his doctors for help, but gets no reply. I will be writing to our wonderful primary care physician to see if she can intervene in any way to get Dan the support that he needs. All of it breaks my heart.
We had a Gainey family Zoom meeting in the afternoon, followed by a bike ride up on the Vulcan Trail. Both of those things seemed to raise Dan’s spirits (as did the apple cobbler with vanilla bean ice cream afterwards). We sat by the fireplace with the animals, watched a little television, then enjoyed some quiet time, heading to bed even earlier than usual for us. So much of the day had the appearance of a normal Thanksgiving, but it felt like experiencing it all through a scrim; the usual trappings were there, but nothing felt right. I was also keenly aware of those missing from the table and pets who would have been sleeping on the floor beside us, no longer with us; our mothers, our dear friend John, Coops and Sophie, Bailey and Guinness. I’m sure that many, many families felt the same holes in the fabric of the holiday.
Change is the one constant in this world; things will get better, we will get help for Dan. While they can be magical, holidays also have the power to trigger difficult emotions and memories- true even when we’re not in the grip of Covid-19. My lesson this year is to look for gratitude between the cracks of the inevitable challenges; our loved ones are missing, but their love very much filled the room as we enjoyed our meal. Several beloved pets are gone, but sweet Marley snored at our feet and Shiva graced us with her presence, weaving around our legs. Dan is struggling, but he is my heart and one of the strongest men I know; we will get through whatever happens together. He woke up today seeming his usual cheerful self, thanking me for a lovely holiday, and heart contracted in gratitude.
Challenge only makes us appreciate the good times even more. It sounds cliche to say that, but it is so true. No matter how much we try, life will never be perfect, and that in itself is a gift. Through challenge we grow into something better; in good times we can stretch our wings and be brave enough to open our hearts to new possibilities. I will be grateful for all of it.
Old Fashioned Apple Cobbler: https://tastesbetterfromscratch.com/apple-cobbler/