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Dr. Zorba Paster: Don't let the pandemic take the 'Thanks' out of Thanksgiving

Dr. Zorba Paster: Don't let the pandemic take the 'Thanks' out of Thanksgiving


It’s Thanksgiving time, folks. Does it seem like it? Hmm … something’s missing.

Usually, there’s the planning of what to eat, what our family should bring to the home of our good friends, the Barrys. It’s always the famous creamed spinach from the Berghoff restaurant in Chicago.

Our dear old friend Nancy Ross Ryan, now departed, was a cookbook editor, and her titles included “The Berghoff Family Cookbook.” The place is a gem of Chicago’s old-school famous restaurants. The Berghoff’s creamed spinach was a dish I would crave when I went downtown to Marshall Field’s with my mom and we went out to lunch. Yummy.

Such wonderful memories. But now what shall I do? I can’t make it for the usual “Barry crowd” because there won’t be a crowd. In fact, there won’t be Thanksgiving there at all. Welcome to the COVID-19 Dystopic Thanksgiving. It’s a sad time.

Or is it? There are some choices here. We can mourn, as we’re all inclined to do, the gathering of friends and family for this, the most iconic of American events. Or we can adapt and restructure things, reimagining some of the most important things we really need to think about on Thanksgiving.

Is it the food? Sure it is. Is it the libation? The family stories? The people you only see once a year? The conversations — some of which you treasure and others you try to put aside? Yes, it is all that.

But at its root, what is Thanksgiving? That’s what’s been on my mind. What is this holiday really about?

It’s so obvious, really, right there in the name. It’s about giving thanks. We have so much tumult in our lives. COVID-19, lockdowns, schools not in session, people suffering the loss of loved ones. There also are all the concerns of jobs, of economic cushion, of just normalcy.

So much to miss. So much to mourn. So difficult to navigate.

And then there is the other side, the bright side. That includes the people we love and cherish who are still around. We can touch them — maybe not physically, but on the phone or better yet, with video calls such as FaceTime or Zoom.

These are people we can connect with and tell them how much we love them and miss them. We can tell them, “Happy Thanksgiving!”

As coronavirus concerns have continued, I’ve started calling people I haven’t talked to in years. Marv, my old college roommate — haven’t talked to him in 50 years. Through Facebook and the White Pages app — boom! — I found him.

And then I called several others who were close to me, including my dear long lost cousin Marilyn, who’s now a healthy 95-year-old living in Texas. Who knew a Chicagoan could move to Austin and listen to country music when she was 90? She always was adventurous.

For me, it’s also time to pay tribute to those I’ve lost. My mom, who started experiencing dementia at age 62, died in 1981. My dad, who was a robust person at 87, has been gone now for nearly 25 years.

And there are plenty of other dear ones who have touched my life. It’s time for me to think about them and give thanks for how they influenced me.

You have those folks, too — some living, some gone — whom you’d like to thank. It’s the season to do that.

When Abraham Lincoln first declared Thanksgiving a national holiday back in 1863, people only lived to an average age in their mid-40s. Today’s children can expect to live well into their 80s — and live quite well at that. That’s certainly something for which to be thankful.

It may seem Pollyannaish, overly optimistic, just to ignore any bad stuff that’s happening in our world or brush it under the carpet. But I kind of like the idea of having a time set aside for love and fellowship and joy and happiness. On Friday, I can go back to reality — I certainly won’t be going to Macy’s right now with other people looking for a bargain.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody. And, by the way, I’m still making the Berghoff creamed spinach. It sings to my heart. Stay well.

This column provides general health information. Always consult your personal health care provider about concerns. No ongoing relationship of any sort is implied or offered by Dr. Paster to people submitting questions. Any opinions expressed by Dr. Paster in his columns are personal and are not meant to represent or reflect the views of SSM Health.

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