Being Thankful, No Matter What

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by Helen Baldwin |

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It’s so much more than the turkey.

Memories of childhood Thanksgiving gatherings with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins take me to a happy place. My paternal grandmother, Mammaw, wearing white socks and practical black shoes, poured sugar into the bowl for cake icing while the best ever pan-fried chicken sizzled. In the adjoining compact living room stuffed with kinfolk, Granddaddy rolled his cigarettes. The belly laughs and belly-filling never stopped.

Later that same day, my family somehow managed a second feast at my maternal grandparents’ house, with more aunts, uncles, and cousins. The biggest hit on the table was Grandmom’s pimiento cheese. Besides more laughter and scrumptious food, a few of the family musicians usually entertained with impromptu mini-concerts.

Saying grace was a staple at both get-togethers. As a girl, however, I tended to focus on the food on my overflowing plate rather than the bounty of blessings for which I should have been thankful.


My husband, Randy, and I had been married 12 years when our first baby, Matthew, was born. The nieces and nephews on Randy’s side of the family were considerably older and hundreds of miles away. My brother Paul’s children were about the same age as Matthew and our daughter, Katie. Get-togethers were relatively frequent until the “kids” grew up and spread out.

I’m most thankful for family.


After our third baby, Jeffrey, was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy, we focused on thwarting the progression of this neuromuscular killer. Our efforts and prayers, exhaustive and sincere as they were, couldn’t “save” him, however, and he snagged his wings and a ticket to the perfect place on Nov. 4, 1997.

Thanksgiving came 23 days later.

I remember working a puzzle on our dining room table, mostly with my sister-in-law, Jaymie, although others contributed at times. I appreciated the quiet conversation about Jeffrey and overall simplicity of the moment.

In her typical generous fashion, Jaymie brought tulip and daffodil bulbs for Jeffrey’s site. Blessed with beautiful weather during their stay, she and I dug diligently until every bulb had a spot.

Days later, we compared notes when our collective planting fingers achieved sausage status from poison ivy. Under the “zoomie” influence of prednisone, I pestered Cindy Schaefer with relentless emails well into early morning. I was wired (PREDNISONE!), and she was working as a copy editor. Or trying, anyway.

Although we had just buried our beautiful baby, our family had much to be thankful for in 1997. While Jeffrey’s struggling to breathe was surely uncomfortable, I never thought he was in pain. I was confident that he knew he was loved way beyond measure by his earthly family and that his flight had taken him straight into God’s hands.

And I’m grateful for the friendships made possible only because of our little guy and a deadly disease we’d known nothing about.


Fast-forward to 2020.

Ahhh … 2020.

Our daughter and her husband live several hours from us in a hot spot for tourists and COVID-19. Katie and Paul, frustrated with their area’s apparent oblivion in general to the pandemic, nixed a Thanksgiving visit to us. They pointed to the rise in positive cases there, although the rise in our own neck of the woods likely wasn’t particularly enticing, either.

Paul’s mother lives within walking distance of Katie and Paul. When Katie informed me they didn’t feel comfortable eating with her because of recent possible exposure, I mentioned that I was really sorry they couldn’t visit here. I added that it would have been more difficult to stay apart for Thanksgiving had we lived within walking distance.

Make way for a bit of irony.


A member of our extended family has just tested positive. Matthew and Jill, our daughter-in-law, have banned us from the inside of their house (for our benefit) until more information is available. I can still tend to Mom’s needs, but the ban means no grandkids — no Clara, no James. Boo. Hiss.

Did I mention they live within walking distance?

At the time of this writing, it looks like Thanksgiving will consist of a socially-distanced exchange of dishes on the front porch. After preparing a plate for Mom, Randy and I will be thankful on our own.

Gratitude abounds. Although the years are flashing by at lightning speed, we are in good health and fulfilling plentiful obligations. Our responsible adult children married other responsible adults. We have really cute grandchildren, whom we can (usually) enjoy daily. My mother may not be able to see well, but she can see, and her health is decent for her 88 years.

The signs from heaven are a godsend. Sometimes I know they’re from Jeffrey. Other times I credit my father and my mother-in-law.


Because of Jeffrey, I know to be thankful even when the lemon pile seems a bit more dense than usual.

And for that, I’m thankful.


Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.


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