What am I thankful for this year? Millions of families like ours that don’t let disability keep anyone from the Thanksgiving table

What’s on your Thanksgiving To Do list?

Don’t forget the wheelchair!

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By HOWARD BROWN
Author of Shining Brightly

Like most of you, we are checking off our family’s Thanksgiving To Do list:

  • Turkey
  • Stuffing
  • Green bean casserole
  • Salad
  • Pies
  • Brisket (yes, for us that’s a tradition)
  • And, of course, the wheelchair, which I’ll need to pick up Mom from the airport

That last item is on the lists of millions of American families this week—and thank God for that! Our families are not allowing disability to keep loved ones from the traditional feast, surrounded by the warmth of family and friends.

How many American families are affected?

The Centers for Disease Control reports that 13.7 percent of Americans have difficulty walking or climbing stairs—and 2 out of every 5 adults age 65 or older have some form of disability. (The CDC information is presented as a free “printable” graphic if you’re looking for something to share with friends to increase awareness of disability.)

And, then, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics reports:

More than 25 million Americans age 5 and older have self-reported travel-limiting disabilities. 13.4 million are age 18 to 64 and 11.2 million are age 65 and older. And, 3.6 million Americans with travel-limiting disabilities do not leave their homes because they are disabled or housebound.

Does that last number break your heart? That image of 3.6 million Americans staying home at the holidays because they can’t manage to travel certainly inspires me to continue our annual odyssey of helping my Mom—the matriarch of our family—safely reach our Thanksgiving table in Michigan.

Mom’s Odyssey Will Be Like Millions of Others This Week

Mom—or Bubby to her grandkids—is 76 this year. She’s a high-energy matriarch who is as determined to reach our Thanksgiving gathering as we are to help her join us.

Our story is familiar to many readers. It starts with her overall condition: She’s had joint replacement surgery; she had a slip and fall; she snapped a bone; she hurt her back; she needs another joint replacement. Bottom line: She’s in pain, even when sitting—but she’s in even more pain when standing or trying to walk. She can take steps with a cane or walker, but she needs a wheelchair for longer distances.

So, to reach our Thanksgiving gathering at my twin sister CJ’s house, this year, she and Dad will leave their Massachusetts home and drive to the parking lot where they can catch an express bus to Boston’s Logan airport. That means Dad has to help Mom safely get out of the house and get settled in the car. Then, before parking at the lot, he lets her get out near a bench at the bus stop. He parks the car and walks back to her bench. Then, he helps her climb the steps onto the bus, when it arrives.

The bus drops her near another bench outside Logan, where she sits while Dad goes into the airport and finds someone with a wheelchair to come get Mom and wheel her through the airport to their gate. Then, an airline staffer wheels her onto the plane and helps her into her seat.

When they reach Detroit’s Metro airport, all of that long process is reversed—until they reach the baggage-claim area where I’m waiting with our wheelchair. Then, I push her out to our car, so I can drive them the rest of the way to Thanksgiving.

The whole journey is painful for her, but she’s a tough cookie who would never think of staying home—as long as a few caring people along the way can help her with wheelchairs through those otherwise almost impossible stretches.  In this family—and with some gracious assistance from the airport staffs—we’re happy to help.

But, you know what? That’s not all!

So, Mom has reached the Thanksgiving table and—whew!—we’re done!

Think that’s all?

Hardly! If you’ve got a disabled loved one in your family circle, of course you want them to fully participate in the holiday feasts. But there’s always more to a holiday than a meal.

What comes next for Mom and the four now-college-age grandkids in our family? Like millions of other Americans, it’s hitting the Black Friday sales after Thanksgiving. Mom absolutely loves to treat her grandkids to new clothes. So, they help her into the car, then they wheel her chair into the stores near the fitting rooms—so she can express herself as they select something new to wear.

Does all of this take extra effort? Sure. Is she shouldering a little more pain with the bumps and movements back and forth into the wheelchair and through these jam-packed stores? Sure.

But—she absolutely loves the Black Friday tradition. She wouldn’t miss it as long as she’s still breathing. And we would never enjoy the whole holiday weekend as much without her.

Learn something new this year: How to Safely Make a Wheelchair Transfer

Let me leave you with one final helpful tip: Learn how to safely make a wheelchair transfer. Families who regularly use wheelchairs know this by heart, but folks who volunteer to help only on special occasions like Thanksgiving might not know this.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provides this very helpful, printable guide to making A Wheelchair Transfer.

Happy Thanksgiving!

I know we will—because Mom’s at the table with us!

Mom with me and my twin sister CJ at an earlier family gathering when standing wasn’t such a challenge.

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Care to learn more?

This is a perfect moment to become one of Howard’s growing global community of friends by ordering your copy of his book.

Here are other articles we have published, exploring the launch of this book:

Take a look at the book’s Foreword: ‘Shining Brightly’ Foreword by Dr. Robert J. Wicks: ‘Learn anew about the American Dream’

And, are you intrigued by that cover? Check out: Thanks to artist Rick Nease, our book covers keep ‘Shining Brightly’

Want a personalized copy of Howard’s book? Howard Brown helps readers personalize their gifts. (Get yours now.)

Babson College shares the news, because this book includes so many inspiring stories about the college’s unique approach to teaching entrepreneurship.

An inspiring story to share: Howard Brown shows us the power of mentors to pay it forward, generation to generation 

Don’t miss: Howard Brown ‘Shining Brightly’—The Surprising Joy of Sharing Hope Each Day

And you’ll definitely want to see this video: Howard Brown appears on ABC 15 in Phoenix on Nim Stant’s Go All In.

Download (and free-to-share) resource guides for discussing Shining Brightly:

What can these three lists inspire in our lives?

You’ll find lots of ideas you can use! Here’s one example from Detroit, where friends gathered to plant trees in honor of a friend.

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