Tag Archives: family

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.

Fly Away, Jerry

I phoned my late husband’s best friend. “John,” I said. “It’s raining again!” It had rained every day all week. John and my husband, Jerry, were fishing buddies. They had gone fishing two or three times a week, mostly at the waters off Fort Macon State Park, about an hour’s drive. It was a “favorite fishing hole,” and seemed an appropriate place for Jerry’s ashes to rest. Now it was Friday, and we were planning a family trip to Fort Macon on Saturday to scatter his ashes.

            “If it rains, it rains,” he replied. “That won’t stop us.”

            Back in the spring my daughter, Stacy, had come to visit me, and we opened the sealed box of Jerry’s ashes. I had waited for her visit because I didn’t know how I would feel. It almost felt like a sacred moment. But when we opened the box, and the plastic bag inside, we saw simply tan and gritty ashes, with tiny white pebbles, not like fireplace ashes, the only ashes I knew.

            Stacy looked at them and said, “Oooh, I don’t want to think those little stones are his bones!” As I looked at them, I did not feel sad, but rather, almost detached. It did not seem possible that my husband had been turned into those tiny pebbles.

            We were filling an urn, which was more like a cookie jar, we were planning to take to Pennsylvania for a memorial service. The service never happened, because of the coronavirus. Now I am saving the urn for my stepson, Duane, who could not be with us. He wants to scatter ashes in meaningful places in Pennsylvania, where he grew up and lives now.

            Although all of our family could not be with us for our trip to the beach, the nine of us would include three grandchildren, so all families were represented. When Stacy arrived that Friday evening, we made our preparations. “Don’t you think these containers will work?” I pulled several lidded plastic containers out of my cupboard and showed them to her. She nodded, and we arranged nine containers on the kitchen island. Since we had opened the box of ashes once before, we did not feel the apprehension we had felt the first time. We put the remainder of Jerry’s ashes into the nine containers, so each of us would have ashes to scatter.

            Saturday dawned overcast, but not rainy. When all the family had arrived at my home, we drove in a three-car caravan to Fort Macon, stopping to pick up John. I was his driver, leading the caravan so he could show us the best place to park.

            After parking, we walked about a half mile, through a wooded area and then sand, as the ocean spread out in front of us, with a steady wind blowing. I used Jerry’s golf umbrella for a walking stick; (John used it going back. He is 91 and battling cancer, but he was a trouper this day).

            We were a little concerned that someone might call us out for “scattering illegally,” but there were few people on the beach and no rangers. We had decided we would all scatter first and then say words, if we wanted to. I went first, throwing my ashes out in front of me toward the water, but the wind took them, and they flew off to the right, never reaching the water. That wasn’t what I had planned, but I loved it, because it felt like he was really flying away, “to a land where joys will never end.” My grandson Michael Paul wrapped his ashes in a paper towel, weighted down with a small stone Stacy had decorated. Each person threw their ashes, and, as he threw his, John could be overheard muttering, “I was always a better fisherman than you.”

            So “I’ll Fly Away” was a most appropriate song, and Stacy played the Alison Krauss version on her phone, as she and I sang along. It is a special song for Jerry and me, since it was our signature song when we both sang with a band in our church in Virginia.

            It never rained, and it was all upbeat. Everything felt right. We all walked back to our cars with smiles on our faces. Meeting back at my house, we had lunch together. We had given Jerry the best send-off we could, and we were content.

John took a group pic of us

Through the woods at Ft. Macon
Walking with John to the beach
Singing I’ll Fly Away