Thankful, not grateful, part II (2013): “When my half-sister invited us to Thanksgiving at the end of summer, my inner voice nudged me to accept. When I told Dad, he was as steady as always. He knows there’s nothing to prove, no contest. That it isn’t a big deal if we skip a year, or have it on another day. We’ve had many holiday dinners with him, and God willing we will have many more.”
There weren’t anymore. Not really. Just one Thanksgiving when dementia reared its ugly head.
I didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving last year. Instead I wrote my father’s obituary. And then I spent the next twelve months grieving as I lost and lost and lost….family, friends, my childhood home, even the way I will think about some of those who died. Laying flowers on my adoptive parents’ graves last week and retracing their steps – driving through our old neighborhood past our home, the church where they married, where Dad worked – finally broke the spell.
This Thanksgiving I was back with my birth mother’s family. But for the first time, I did not have somewhere else to rush off to afterward. I am treated as just another one of the “kids” which is what I always wanted. Still, it is bittersweet, because now my mother is the one with dementia, slowly stealing her memories.
Reconciliation in adoption was the ultimate goal of Jean Paton, the original adoptee rights advocate. I have achieved that. And at the same time I will always grieve my parents – all of them – and the relationships I never had and cannot have because of lack of time and opportunity.
I am still thankful, not grateful.
Elle Cuardaigh is author of The Tangled Red Thread.