How to celebrate Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving is a great time of year to reflect on the things for which you are thankful. It’s a time to re-center gratitude and focus on the good. All the while trying not to fill up on appetizers before the main course. Learning how to celebrate thanksgiving in prison was a challenge our family faced.
As a kid, Thanksgiving was a reminder that my dad wasn’t going to be home to cut the turkey. He wasn’t there to play games after the meal or to tell stories about his childhood. He wasn’t there to doze off in the recliner after eating too much. There was an empty seat at the table, and in my heart, because he wasn’t there.
Every year we went to a friend of the family’s Thanksgiving. Looking back, I am so grateful that they invited us into their family tradition and memories. At the time, I didn’t fully appreciate their gesture; because I just wanted to make our own family memories – with my Dad – at OUR house. For more on this, read my blog titled proud of my dad.
The Gift of Thankfulness
Looking at all the seemingly perfect families made it harder for me to believe that things were going to turn out well for me. This just made me feel like we were a charity-case. Of course, that family never treated us like a charity case. But my own pain and embarrassment about my Dad being in prison had robbed me of the freedom to accept kindness. As I got older, it became even harder to watch families standing in line. Filling their plates with food, laughing together – even something as simple as hearing a child say, “Hey Dad, can you pass the salt and pepper?”
For all the years my Dad was in prison, our family Thanksgiving consisted of microwave pizzas and Big AZZ Burgers out of the vending machines in the visiting room, which had only two community microwaves that all the families had to share. And you had to be quick to be the first at the machines, otherwise who knows what kind of food you’d be stuck with. The sandwiches with white bread were the worst!
If that was your only option then you waited until the vending machine person came to refill it. If you weren’t quick to get in line then you’d be in the same place you were in before it was refilled. We learned the hard way and came up with a plan before visits, so we didn’t have to wait for my Dad to come out to pick our food.
Despite the circumstances, my family still tried to appreciate the time we had together.
After we got all the food heated and prepared we talked about things we were thankful for while we ate. We did everything we could to make the day feel like it was just us in the room. Still, it always seemed like just as we had finally blocked out the noise around us and became focused on our small section of the room, the guard stood up and said, “10 minutes”. Reality set back in and we had to begin the goodbye process.
Driving home from the prison after holiday visits were harder to bounce back from than normal visits. On our drive home, we always tried to focus on the positive. We talked about our favorite parts of the visit and what we were going to do when we got home.
This holiday season, don’t let the cares and worries of this world stop you from being thankful for the life you have. Embrace life for what it is – an adventure.
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