Holiday Digest: Discovering Gratitude Amid Bleak Times

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By Theresa Keegan

I am beyond sad.

I’m not sure when this lexicon entered my life, but I know it’s here. In fact, it seems this sentiment has become my albatross of the 2020 holidays and I just can’t shake it.

It probably arrived about a week before Thanksgiving – after I hung up the phone with my daughter.

“I want to be together, but I just don’t feel comfortable flying,” she says, her voice cracking as she utters what each of us has been silently pondering for weeks, since the uptick in COVID cases.

“I totally get it,” I respond.

The silence that follows crosses chasms and valleys and plains and mountain tops. Beyond the Hudson, the Mississippi, the Colorado and lands with a thud along the shore of the Pacific Ocean.

My mom instinct kicks in.

“It will be fine,” I lie. “It’s just one holiday out of the 29 we’ve shared together … there will be plenty of others.” I babble on about being responsible, that short-term sacrifices will yield long-term gains, blah, blah, blah. I haven’t felt like such a fraud since I told her the calculus final would be much easier than the class itself. Although she did pass the exam, so maybe…

But gathering for the holidays is what makes them the holidays. It’s the late-night talks around the kitchen table, the early-morning community Turkey Trots, the smell of a turkey filtering throughout the house. And sharing it with others – even the crazy uncle and annoying aunt. After all, it is family.

I finally had to accept that this year we, like so many other families, will be apart. For my daughter and me, it’s 3,126 miles apart, but the chasm is just as great if the distance not traveled is only from Emerald to Three Arch bays. Proving the depth of our love by staying away from each other is the ultimate irony of 2020.

And so, I spent my Thanksgiving afternoon at Woods Cove beach, where the waves were lurching as much as my heart. My intrepid plunges into the brisk water were rewarded with soothing bobs amid gentle waves. 

I dug my toes through the soft sand and stared voyeuristically as multi-generational families enjoyed a pre- or post-dinner walk. It was a beautiful day—but was it a Thanksgiving day? Uncharacteristically, resentment started to simmer within me. And then guilt. And finally, as the sun crossed the sky and edged toward the horizon, gratitude.

My family, and my friends who have become family, are healthy—everything else pales by comparison. My holiday solitude is temporary. But for the families of the 266,000 Americans who’ve died because of COVID-19, Thanksgiving 2020 without a special loved one was not just an apparition, it’s their new forever reality. Their pain must be so profound—the tragedy of this pandemic so massive. The inequity of its depths, the staggering economic chaos it has sown, is overwhelming.

And while medical advances seem promising, it’s going to take a lot more than getting through a holiday or two before we truly start healing from our collective COVID-19 heartbreak. And so yes, I am beyond sad. But also, I know when I finally get to hug my daughter in person, sometime in 2021, that I will be beyond grateful. And that alone is enough to get me through these holidays.

Theresa Keegan is a freelance writer who sees the total irony of missing all the relatives who are not driving her crazy this holiday season.

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