My Thanksgiving Story

The last Thanksgiving I spent with my entire family was in 1999. Over the next year, I would move to Utah with my husband and two young children, my grandparents would both die, my mother and I would stop speaking, my husband would lose his job, we would hit a bus and lose our car, and we would lose all our belongings for not being able to make the storage unit rent.  The last straw for my husband was when his backpack with all our money was stolen.  He took the kids and went home to California. I was working and was able to get a small truck that I stayed in, but it broke down and was eventually towed away. I'd stay in a motel when I had the money for it, but that didn’t leave much for food. I had few friends in my new city and managed a night on a couch here and there. 

That Thanksgiving found me homeless and alone. I thought about spending my paycheck on a train ticket home but my pride and fear of being turned away kept me from it. I was ashamed of myself and my life, and I couldn’t bear to think about going home and letting people see what I had become. I missed my children desperately. I could picture them with their Dad and all his family, playing with their cousins, sitting down to dinner. I wondered what they would wear and who was going to do my daughter’s hair. I wondered if they would miss me. Did they even remember Thanksgiving with me? I thought and I walked. The holiday meant no work, libraries were closed, and the buses were on a schedule unfamiliar to me. I found a place to sleep for the night and figured I’d read and sleep away the day. But as the sun went down, I got hungry. Alberto's restaurant was the only place open, so I ordered a burrito and a horchata and settled into a booth for my first Thanksgiving alone. If this were a movie, this is where my white knight would ride in or a cute family would stumble across this woman alone and invite her into their home, or her family would magically appear and take her home and everything would be okay. But the reality is that I sat alone, ate my food and prayed for the day to be over.

Today, as it snows outside, I think about that day and how alone I felt. Life got better for me, I met someone, my kids came home to me and I had two more. I have a relationship with my parents. I have a home and a safe place to sleep at night. Just over four years ago, I found The INN Between. After volunteering there for two weeks, it changed my life, became my passion, and stole a large part of my heart.

In 2015, I prepared the first Thanksgiving meal at The INN Between, and as my family and I sat down to eat at what we consider to be our second home, I was overwhelmed with gratitude. Some residents didn't participate, and I understood and respected their privacy. The holidays are a difficult time when you are homeless. There are places to go and so many people who want to help, but sometimes that hurts a little too. The holidays are a huge trigger. It’s bittersweet - I enjoy the holidays now, but I often regret what I missed out on and long for how things used to be. I am always prepared to spend a little more time listening, and I expect more than a few meltdowns.

This Thanksgiving, newly divorced, I woke up alone again. My younger kids are with their Dad, my older kids are in their own homes and navigating their first holiday since their Dad passed away a month ago. I felt sorry for myself for a minute, but there wasn’t a lot of time for that. I promised I would be at The INN Between early to help the kitchen staff prepare dinner. I walk in and am immediately greeted by our residents, my people. This Thanksgiving, we have 37 residents to feed, more than we have had in the past. In the dining room, there’s laughing, joking and anticipation for the amazing dinner we are going to have.

I head to my office to write this story, and I get a knock at my door from our kitchen manager, Kim, who is concerned about an upset resident. I walked over to his room to check on him, and he started to complain about the breakfast, which he didn’t like. But as we talk, it's clear that he's really upset because he's thinking about his mother who died years before. He angrily asked me to live one day in his shoes. Then he stopped and looked at me, and his demeaner changed. He knows my story and he can relate. He started to recall the happy holidays he spent as a child and asked me, “It will never be the same again will it?”  I tell him that it won’t, but that he is not alone. He has his family here at The INN Between. In just a few hours we’ll all be sitting down together for our meal. We will remember those we have lost, remember what was, and be glad to be together.

This is the magic of The INN Between. It rode into my life like a white knight, and now I get to help it ride into others lives, offering them a place to spend their final days, a place to recuperate, a place to feel at home and to be part of our family. At dinner we shares what we are thankful for. For myself it will be for my family, for this place, for the amazing staff that runs it, the volunteers that keep it going, the medical providers that provide such needed care, and for our residents, both those living with us now and those who have left us. And finally, I’m thankful that I don’t have to eat a burrito alone tonight. 

Happy Thanksgiving