This Thanksgiving, Michelle Preble planned to fly from her home in Clackamas County, Oregon, to Texas to share a holiday dinner with her mother and her brother, Donnie, who is in home hospice care. After a lifetime of severe epilepsy due to brain damage he suffered at birth, Donnie, 43, has been told by doctors that he does not have much time left.
But because of the pandemic, Preble, 48, has made the excruciating choice not to go — even though she has not seen her brother since last Thanksgiving and does not know when she will see him next.
“However much time he still has, I want to be as much a part of it as I can, and not being able to be is heartbreaking,” Preble said. “Every day, I’m just grateful that we have one more day with him, and every day, my prayers are that I get to see him again.”
As Thanksgiving approaches, the nation’s top public health officials are urging people not to travel or hold large gatherings so they do not contribute to the spread of the coronavirus.
Many people, like Preble, are heeding that advice. But playing it safe can come with a feeling of grief over the loss of cherished holiday traditions and time with those who matter to them most.
“We know this is a painful decision to make, given how isolated and lonely many people have been throughout the pandemic,” said Tener Goodwin Veenema, a professor and visiting scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “But with numbers surging, hospitalizations surging, we are forced to really look at implementing some serious disease containment strategies.”
With small gatherings at private residences contributing to an explosion in coronavirus cases, experts say the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving is with members of your own household, or via Zoom if you want to connect with family and friends elsewhere.
Not everyone is abiding by that. But among those who are canceling their traditional turkey dinners, there is sadness — both about having to skip Thanksgiving with their extended families and about the magnitude of the pandemic in this country, where more than 250,000 coronavirus deaths have now been recorded.
“I feel hopeless,” said Marcellous Adams, 26, a financial crimes investigator in Plainfield, Illinois. “I feel like there’s no end date.”
Adams usually spends Thanksgiving at her 86-year-old grandmother’s house along with about 30 other relatives. It is her grandmother’s favorite holiday, she said, but the family has agreed not to gather this year. Adams is both disappointed and relieved.
“Everybody enjoys the camaraderie and family, of course, but at the cost of what? Health?” she said. “Death is the worst thing ever, so I’m going to follow all precautions.”
Preble will also have a pared-down Thanksgiving. In addition to not joining her family in Texas, she and her husband will not eat with their two adult sons…