Thanksgiving can be a bittersweet day for caregivers.
On the one hand, the things you’ve lost can seem so much more GONE during the holidays, whether it is the first holiday season since a loved one’s death, the realization that Grandma just can’t make the sweet potato pie herself anymore, or a year when all the kids and grandkids are spread to the four winds, your husband is in the nursing home, and you’re opening a can of cranberry sauce just for yourself. I’ve spent time with many folks who are in the midst of sorrow.
On the other hand, feelings of gratitude can be all the more strong in the midst of loss and decline. Maybe you are thankful for your flexible boss who understands when you need to leave in the middle of the day to take care of a crisis. Maybe it’s gratitude that your husband is still with you and still laughing at your goofy jokes, even after the stroke that took away his ability to speak and tell his own jokes. Maybe you’re filled with gratitude every morning that your wife can sit with you at the breakfast table. I’ve heard many caregivers and seniors express enormous gratitude, even in the midst of health and financial problems that would bring anyone to their knees. They say that this is what gets them through to the next day.
Next week, I’ll share a new song with you, one that has been composed in pieces by several of the seniors I see for music therapy, one that is full of gratitude. This week, though, I’ll share Irving Berlin’s take on Thanksgiving in the midst of heartache, with the song “I’ve Got Plenty To Be Thankful For.”
This song is one of twelve original songs Irving Berlin wrote for the 1942 film “Holiday Inn,” which also included “White Christmas,” the best-selling single of all time. In this film, the main character Jim, played by Bing Crosby, has given up a life in show business to work on his farm. He decides to turn the farm into a country inn, open only for holidays. As he goes through his first year at the Holiday Inn, we hear songs for each season, all through the lens of Jim’s romantic and professional struggles. By Thanksgiving, he is depressed and lonely, having lost his sweetheart. He has been asked to write a song for a film about his Holiday Inn, which we hear as “I’ve Got Plenty To Be Thankful For.” This song is quite chipper compared to his mood, and as we hear the song in the movie, Jim has a negative comment to answer every positive notion in the song. Fortunately for Jim (and the viewer!), shortly after Thanksgiving, Jim makes it back to his love and we get a happy Hollywood ending.
Whether you’re in the new romance stage of life or not, I bet you can relate to this song, both at its face value and with how Jim experiences the song during the movie.
On its face, this song is all about simple happiness, the small things that fill you with gratitude for life and living. These are my favorite lines:
I’ve got eyes to see with
Ears to hear with
Arms to hug with
Lips to kiss with
Someone I adore
This song even has a dose of reality for those of us who are happy even without everything, with Bing Crosby singing, “I haven’t got a great big yacht to sail from shore to shore/But I’ve got plenty to be thankful for.” The song offers a way to feel gratitude for the smallest things in life.
But in the context of the film, we see an understanding that just hearing a song like this doesn’t change how you feel. In fact, sometimes hearing the cheery talk of thankfulness may feel like rubbing salt in your wounds. Those feelings are just as valid as the happy ones, and it’s helpful to recognize and honor the bitter mixed in with the sweet.
So, we really can pull two lessons from this song:
- We do have plenty to be thankful for, and practicing gratitude can help us feel thankful, even when things aren’t perfect.
- Gratitude and sadness are both valid feelings, and they can co-exist. You can choose gratitude, but it’s okay that you just don’t feel thankful sometimes.
What kind of feelings are you having as you approach Thanksgiving this year? Are you full of gratitude to the point of bursting? Or do you have some sadness or fear or regret mixed in?
No matter how you are feeling this year, please know that I wish you and yours a good Thanksgiving.