Thanksgiving: to Stay or to Go

           As we did every Friday, my daughter, Stacy, and I were having our regularly-scheduled video chat, the week before Thanksgiving. We were discussing the upcoming holiday in Ocean Isle, where Stacy, her husband Mike, her son Michael Paul and I would be staying at their beach house.  For the holiday meal we would gather with a number of Mike’s relatives, including his 91-year-old father, at Mike’s brother Ken’s nearby beach house.

            “You know,” I said, “Covid is on the rise here, and everywhere, actually. The health experts are telling everybody to stay home and not travel for Thanksgiving.”

            “I know,” she said, “I was watching it on Good Morning, America.”

            “What do you think?” I asked. “You know we’re going to go through this all over again at Christmas. I am in that older population at risk, over 70.”

            “Yes. If I had to give up one holiday together, it would be Thanksgiving.”

            “Me, too,” I replied. At Christmas we would be celebrating at her home in Raleigh with her family and members of my step-children’s families the weekend before Christmas. I now have a one-year-old great-grandson to add to the holiday fun, another generation coming up.

            “Mike’s not home now. Let me get together with him and we’ll decide what we want to do.”

            “Okay,” I said.

            By late November we were eight months into the pandemic of Covid-19, the coronavirus. We had been inundated with accounts of doctors and nurses working heroically around the clock to save lives. We heard sad stories about tens of thousands who had died. We were asked to stay home except for essential errands, like finding toilet paper. Kids had to do schoolwork by computer, and many didn’t like it, but there was fear that children in classrooms would spread the virus. For a while it appeared the virus was slowing, and businesses began to open up, but now cases were rising exponentially, all over the country. People confessed to having “Covid fatigue,” and many were just careless about observing precautions to prevent catching it. Some felt their rights were being infringed upon, and refused to wear masks. Now we were faced with what had traditionally been the biggest holiday travel days of the year. Thanksgiving meant being with family and friends; no one wanted to be forced to stay home.

            During these last months, people complained of loneliness, wanting to see friends and loved ones. I knew loneliness like I had never experienced it before. I had just lost my husband, Jerry, in February, scarcely one month before everything shut down. When I most needed people, I had to do without my friends and family. In all my life, I realized, I had never lived alone.

            The good part is that I adjusted, and I came to enjoy parts of the single life. Now I feel confident that I will be okay with my new reality. Although I could live with staying home for Thanksgiving if I had to, I was ready to go. This was my first Thanksgiving since Jerry had died, and I wanted to spend it with my family, but I felt it was Mike and Stacy’s decision to make, since I was coming to their house.

            I woke up the next morning after our phone conversation wondering what was going to happen. I texted Stacy to ask if they had made a decision. She texted back, “We want you to come,” saying we would decide how much to see Mike’s family after we all arrived. Pleased the decision had been made, I smiled as I responded, “It feels great to be wanted!”

            I knew we would be careful, and do what we needed to do to be safe. Most importantly, I was not going to be home alone on Thanksgiving, and that felt good.

            Little did we know then… Tuesday evening before Thanksgiving I received an email from Stacy: Mike’s niece, who works as a physician’s assistant, had just tested positive for the coronavirus. She and her family would be isolated for 14 days. Her father, Mike’s brother, Ken, had been to visit her, and might have been exposed. People were bailing out of our wished-for family gathering right and left, including me, after she told me. So the virus answered the question for me: no hugs, no family, no overeating and overdrinking. It wasn’t what I wanted, but I know I still have a lot to be thankful for, most importantly, my good health.

3 thoughts on “Thanksgiving: to Stay or to Go

  1. This piece is a tribute to a warm, trusting family and a strong spirit (you!). Hope the family is doing okay these days. Sorry you weren’t able to gather together.

  2. I know it was a disappointment to be home alone for Thanksgiving. Even though we have 4 of us in our household, we usually have 10-15 people around the table at holiday meals. I can only imagine how lonely I would feel all by myself.

    For Christmas, our single traveling family member isolated and then tested before coming to our home for his 10-day visit. Our “bubble” family of 5 (oldest son’s household) was able to come because they are all at home full-time and isolate well, and they knew the precautions being taken by the coming-from-far-away brother. And yet, even with all of the precautions, we know that we still took a risk.

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