How to have a happy Thanksgiving with a wheelchair or walker

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

Will there be a wheelchair or walker coming to your Thanksgiving dinner this year?

This week, I’m keeping the column short and to the point: I’m sharing some very helpful tips that are well known to veteran caregivers, but aren’t so well known to the occasional caregiver.

PLEASE, think about friends and family coming to your holiday celebrations—and send them this column. Put it up on Facebook by using the blue-“f” Facebook buttons. Or, email it using the envelope-shaped icons. You can even print this column and physically hand it to friends.

Trust me: If you’ve got relatives volunteering to bring a disabled loved one to the family celebration—they need to see today’s column.


Put away any throw rugs, especially those that don’t have a rubber backing. They can cause people to trip if they catch the edge. Uneven surfaces are more difficult to negotiate whether walking or in a wheelchair.

Clear away clutter and leave the widest pathways possible inside and outside of your house.

Have a couple of nice sturdy chairs ready that aren’t low to the ground. Lazy boys and cushy couches are great but they can be really hard to get out of.

Do a bathroom check. If there are no grab bars available keep in mind that people often will take hold—and push hard—on anything that’s available when they try to stand. This often leads to breaking toilet paper holders off the wall. The lack of a grab bar also can lead to falls that are not only dangerous, but can suddenly transform your whole holiday weekend in a tragic way.

If stairs are a must allow the person to hold on to a sturdy handrail rather than taking your hand. Permanent objects are more secure and you can be there to steady along with their hand on the solid railing.

Plan ahead for the best placement for your guest at the dining room table.

Finally if you aren’t familiar with transferring your loved one from one place to another—check out this video. Proper technique and a gait belt can make all difference. (If no one has introduced you to this common device, sometimes called a “transfer belt,” you’ll find that it’s a very useful, adjustable belt that aids in careful lifting of a disabled person. Amazon sells many varieties.)


IF YOU DON’T SEE A VIDEO SCREEN, in your version of this column—or if you’re printing out this column to share with friends: You also can access the YouTube video directly by going to

What do we carry with us—when we give up the family home?

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

My parents built the house where they raised our family in 1968. Through the years they hosted many family events and even more impromptu gatherings of friends. The house was perfect for these things with its large living area, inside and out.

Dad loved innovation (and was a little crazy). He installed a switch in the master bedroom to turn on a plug in the kitchen. This would be the predecessor to the coffee maker with a timer. He could turn on the switch and have his coffee ready when he went downstairs. They kept adding things over the years: a pole barn, a pool, a two-story tree house, and a sand volleyball court.

It was a great place to grow up.

It was home.

WHAT IS HOME? To my family, home is gatherings like this scene of dominoes after a family dinner. For poet Ted Kooser, it's a House Held Up By Trees.

WHAT IS HOME? To my family, home is gatherings like this scene of dominoes after a family dinner. For poet Ted Kooser, it’s a House Held Up By Trees.

Nearly 45 years later, Mom lives alone in the family home. Dad passed away in January. My brothers and I settled in towns other than our hometown and aren’t close enough to regularly visit. It’s a pretty big place for one person and upkeep is ongoing. Though there are lots of good memories, Mom is ready to move. We all agree that the house needs children running through it.

Have you experienced this emotional milestone in your family?

Many writers have tried to describe these powerful ties we feel toward a family home. Frederick Buechner wrote a whole book, The Longing for Home, to explore these deep stirrings within us. As we become adults ourselves and our own children grow up, he writes, “we find ourselves remembering the one particular house that was our childhood home. We remember the books we read there. We remember the people we loved there.”

Former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser wrote a wonderful children’s book about the powerful connections we feel to family homes through the generations: House Held Up by Trees. In one of Kooser’s best-known poems, he says that it was so hard for him to help his aging mother move away from their family home that he transplanted her iris bulbs into his own garden and, each spring, the iris blooms help him to remember their former home.

In our family, Mom seems ready to make a big move now. After considering all of the areas where her kids live, she bought land this summer on our lake and is planning to build. Geographically this puts her in the middle of all of us since one brother lives north and the other lives south of us. We are happy to have her closeby.

In this process we have found that there is a wide range of opinions about leaving the family home. Some people are astounded that Mom would consider moving; others encourage her to move on with the next chapter.

Mom would acknowledge that there are a whole lot of memories associated with what will forever be “home” for many of us—yet she knows it is time to move on.

She wants to be a part of more memories by being closer to her family—rather than staying in a house that is no longer a gathering place. A house is a house she would say; it’s people who make a place … a home.


Please, share your stories and ideas. This is such an important—and often difficult—challenge for so many of our families. I’m sure many of you have stories like mine or like Ted Kooser’s. I hope you will add a Comment below or email us at [email protected] about an experience you’ve had—or an idea you’ve found helpful, like moving some iris bulbs.

And, if you enjoyed this column, you also will enjoy Debra Darvick’s column this week, called Home Making: The Sisterhood of My Traveling Remnant.