Being Present in the Moment: On Families and Causes for Gratitude


Nine years ago, visiting my oldest on a late-November trip to Edinburgh, my kids and I decided to celebrate Thanksgiving at a Chinese restaurant. I mean, why not. 

Climbing into the back of a cab, we immediately started gabbing—and the driver, hearing our American accents, quickly interrupted to ask the most basic of questions. What ensued was a short, sweet, lighthearted conversation that has stuck with me ever since. Not just as it relates to Thanksgiving, but as it relates to families and gratitude in general. To life in general. To the gift of spending time with others, whatever that may mean. To the importance of staying in the now.

Since taking over as family editor in March, I’ve found myself dwelling on this time and again. So many of the folks I communicate and work with are people walking the thorniest of paths, most of them tirelessly supporting a loved one in the grips of mental and emotional challenges—and just as tirelessly advocating for them as they grapple with treatment and its harms. Such people, to me, are the living embodiment of family: being present for someone, being with someone, being authentic and loving in the moment. (As always, if you want to tell your story of being present for a loved one, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. See my email below.) 

And such moments are sacred, whether fleeting or long. It’s the now that matters. 

I’ve thought about this over the months, just as I’ve thought about my exchange with the cab driver as we wound our way through the ancient streets near Edinburgh Castle. He glanced at us in the mirror with a look of unbridled curiosity. 

“Pardon me! Could I ask ye a question?”

“Of course!”

“On Thanksgiving: how do you celebrate it? What do ye do?”

Laughing, I replied: “We eat. We get together with family and eat. A lot.”

“But what else do ye do?”

Still laughing, I replied: “Nothing. I mean, there’s a parade in New York City. And some people watch football, though we don’t. We basically just sit around talking and eating for hours on end. Turkey, stuffing, pie. That’s the gist of it. Spending time around a table with relatives and people you love. Being there with them.” 

“Huh,” he said, clearly mystified. Or intrigued. Or both. 

Whether the cabbie recalls this conversation the same way I do (or at all), I’ll never know. But for me, at least, it was both clarifying and oddly affirming. My kids and I had lost my husband to suicide just three years earlier, and we were figuring out how to move forward. We knew we were still a family, yes, and we knew there were still abundant reasons to be thankful, though none of them wiped out the pain of loss or the complexities of life in the aftermath. 

But as I’ve written before in a previous Editor’s Corner, families aren’t just one thing. They can love and hurt simultaneously. They can inhale grief and exhale gratitude in one deep breath. This is what I see and hear in my work for Mad in America: families being present for each other in whatever way they can, getting through the hard moments and savoring the joyous ones. 

That, to me, is the greatest cause for thanksgiving—and the greatest reason to celebrate it. At any time of year. 

—Amy Biancolli, Family Editor 

[email protected]


More from Mad in the Family

More Editor’s Corners


Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.


Mad in America has made some changes to the commenting process. You no longer need to login or create an account on our site to comment. The only information needed is your name, email and comment text. Comments made with an account prior to this change will remain visible on the site.