A Happy COVID Thanksgiving

For Thanksgiving today, Shannon did a video call with her elderly mother, who lives in a nursing home. They are not seeing each other because of the virus.

The old woman was seated in her room, dressed in holiday finery. She wore a scarlet blouse and pearl earrings. Even her wheelchair looked snazzy, her nurses decorated it with ribbons.

Shannon could see her mother’s food tray on her phone’s video screen. On the plate was turkey, green bean casserole, mac and cheese, and a wad of mashed potatoes bigger than a regulation volleyball.

This has been a hard year. Shannon’s dad died after routine surgery. And these are her mother’s first few months in an assisted living facility. Shannon has had to make many difficult choices lately.

“I miss you, Mom,” said Shannon into the phone. “Love you!”

“Love you,” said the old woman.

“Love you so much!”

“Love you so much, too!”

They must have said I love you 300 times.

Meantime, in Sacramento, Stewart’s entire family ate a holiday meal in the public park with Stewart’s parents. Stewart’s wife, Ameliea, is a recent breast cancer survivor. She wore a bandanna to cover her bald head and kept her distance.

Everyone sat at picnic tables spaced 20 feet apart. Each family brought their own food in coolers. There were no embraces, no handshakes. Just pantomimed hugs.

Yet again, the phrase of the day was “Love you!”

And thanks to modern technology, Stewart’s mom could reportedly hear everyone’s words from miles away because she wears a new pair of hearing aids that cost more than a Mercedes-Benz-S-Class.

In Missouri, Tiffany and her husband, Marlin, went for a walk on a trail, in the cold, crisp Midwestern air. It was 39 degrees, but they were happy because, even though a coronavirus is inhibiting holiday activities for millions, they have each other.

The couple packed a lunch and ate on a blanket. Before they said grace, Tiffany broke the big news. She told Marlin that she’s pregnant.

And in Mississippi, Brett and Donna traveled to see family. They visited “Grammar” and “Poppa,” who have had a complicated year. Poppa broke his hip and had to be in rehab for a while. And Grammar kept having fainting spells from a urinary tract infection. But the family was determined to make this holiday a good one.

They all wore masks, and spaced themselves apart. Dangerous amounts of carrot soufflé were consumed by responsible adults. Brett says this was the first time the family has gathered since February.


In Alberta, Canada, the temperature was 18 degrees. Which is colder than the appendage of a proverbial witch wearing undergarments made of brass.

Sam spent the holiday at home alone. Sam is 72, still recovering from a recent case of COVID. It nearly killed him. He is still weak, but the worst is behind him. He forewent Thanksgiving feast with family this year. Instead, he played video games.

Yes. Video games.

A few weeks ago, he ordered a gaming console that was originally intended for his grandson this Christmas. Around noon Sam got so bored that he figured, what the heck, and opened the package.

He played games until he was ready for an early bedtime, flipping off lamps. That’s when he heard voices on his front lawn. It was the sound of six adults and four children singing Christmas carols at the window.

“We love you, Dad!” came the shouts.

In East Texas, siblings Macy and Ryan ate supper with their brand new adoptive family. Their biological parents were killed in an accident years ago, the poor brother and sister have been bouncing around between homes ever since.

After the Thanksgiving meal, Macy’s and Ryan’s new family played games and laughed so hard their stomach muscles hurt. Macy told her new mom that this was the first time she has ever seen her brother laugh.

In Alabama, 23-year old Rainey and 22-year-old Elijah had a quiet meal on a pontoon boat with Rainey’s parents. The weather was warmish. Rainey fixed the food and brought it in an insulated bag. When Rainey was cleaning up the post-meal mess, she noticed that Elijah had taken a knee and was holding a jewelry box outward. His hands were trembling.

“Will you make me the happiest man alive?” he said.

Tears were shared. Kisses were exchanged. She said yes.

In Miramar Beach, Florida, Jamie and Sean Dietrich ate a quiet meal with elderly “Mother Mary” (Jamie’s mother). And even though Mother Mary has been steadily losing weight for an unknown reason, she’s lost about 70 pounds altogether, she was in high spirits, puttering in her wheelchair.

It was a COVID friendly holiday. There were no hugs. No extended family at the table. No nephews, no additional in-laws, no friends, only Mother Mary’s caregivers.

Light holiday music played in the background. The decorations were hung by the barcalounger with care. The food was simple, but rich.

Before the meal, people folded hands. A prayer was offered. All eyes closed tightly. Heads down. “Lord, please help mother gain weight,” the praying person said. More sincere words have never been uttered.

And when the meal was finished, when almost everyone had gone home, when the living room had become dark, and was lit only by the multi-colored glow of twinkling lights from the decorative pinery, the old woman fell asleep in her chair. Whereupon her daughter gently placed a quilt over the woman’s frail frame, then touched her cotton hair, and her soft cheek, and said in a faint voice that was barely audible to anyone but the angels and her half-sleeping husband:

“Happy Thanksgiving, Mother.”

With all my heart I hope it was a happy one for you and yours as well.


  1. Penn Wells - November 27, 2020 7:14 am

    It was. Ten of us together in Portland. We were not going to come, but the youngest of our two Atlanta born daughters had to have knee surgery, so we came early… self-quarantined… and had the best Thanksgiving, ever. I know not everyone could do this, but the circumstances this year were in our favor. It will not always be this way. But we will take it, you know? Thankful.

  2. Steve Winfield (Lifer) - November 27, 2020 7:59 am

    My wife & I have no family except each other & our 10 yr old daughter who chose to be elsewhere today. I cooked a stuffed chicken & some sides & it was awesome.
    So very thankful for my wife, our health, our dogs & our work. God has been very good to me.
    I know there’s plenty out there in worse shape & I pray they had a good day.
    God bless you & Jamie.
    God bless us all.

  3. oldlibrariansshelf - November 27, 2020 9:18 am

    Steve, this is really hard on children. They don’t have enough years to see the big picture, that surely things will get better. Our eleven-year-old granddaughter is being raised by her grandparents and dad. She was with us but didn’t really want to be. It is my hope and prayer that if she survives into adulthood that she will realize how important family is right now and will appreciate that we kept each other safe from COVID as best we could.

  4. Julie Patterson - November 27, 2020 10:38 am

    Happy Thanksgiving, Sean and Jamie! I will add Mother Mary to my prayers.

  5. Curtis Lee Zeitelhack - November 27, 2020 11:02 am

    Ryan’s laugh brought tears to my eyes.

  6. KAT @ 7:06 am - November 27, 2020 12:06 pm

    🥰🥳💖 Happy a thanksgiving dear Sean and Jamie! We thank you, Sean , for showing and sharing your love, your thoughts and prayers . Know that we too are praying for Jamie’s mother Mary. “Sweet Blessed Virgin Mary , Wrap Mary in your arms of motherly love and bring her to your Son, Jesus, the healer and Savior of body and soul. Amen. “

  7. Te Burt - November 27, 2020 12:13 pm

    As usual, you were inspired, especially the witch’s unmentionables, but that has got to be the saddest description of Thanksgiving ever. I’m lucky: one of my daughters drove 150 mi to join me and close friends for an old-fashioned Southern Thanksgiving dinner around a table, no distancing, no masks. I made a key lime pie and Grandma’s sour cream rolls. We laughed and told stories and took photos. I’m lucky. None of us have had the virus. We may have been one of the few normal gatherings on earth. I feel like I’m living in a Twilight Zone episode.

  8. Heidi - November 27, 2020 12:58 pm

    I saw the video of you all yesterday and thought it all looked so festive & Mother Mary, just beautiful. She’s always so classy looking with her lipstick and nice jewelry! Ours was quiet, the kids & grandkids spread out all over the US. We had a group text going all day and even though sad, it was wonderful sharing a day with all of them at the same time. Blessings to you all and prayers up for Mother Mary to gain some weight!

  9. Sheri - November 27, 2020 1:49 pm

    WOW! How wonderful was that! Thank you God for your many small blessings every day! God bless you, Sean, for your amazing heart!

  10. Jane - November 27, 2020 2:02 pm

    Sixteen of us had a wonderful meal outside in the pole barn in central Florida – stories were told, children ran, played and laughed, we were all grateful to be gathered – we thanked God for keeping us well and safe and prayed for the family of five who was unable to join us as the mom has Covid and they are quarantined. There were a lot of ‘I love you’s’ and plenty of hugs.

  11. Juliette - November 27, 2020 2:03 pm

    My 85 year old mother insisted we have Thanksgiving. She’s lost multiple friends during the past months – not Covid, just the typical tragedies of cancers and age. She was determined to have as much normalcy as possible and our overall family risk/exposure is low. Fortunately the weather was unusually nice for the Midwest so we could open our doors, put fans in the windows to draw out the air and we kept hugs to a minimum. We did the best we could. We’ll add Mother Mary to our prayer list. Here is to a better 2021!

  12. Barbara - November 27, 2020 2:09 pm

    Thank you Sean. ❤⛪🌅

  13. Suzanne Moore - November 27, 2020 2:35 pm

    Such a wonderful post, Sean…happy and heartbreaking, just like this season. God bless you and Jamie and your puppies and Mother Mary. And God bless us every one as we look toward Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa in the year of the COVID.

  14. jondragonfly - November 27, 2020 3:07 pm

    We thought it would be safest to be just the two of us. Sad, but necessary. Then, our daughter and son-in-law called to tell us that they were cooking Thanksgiving again this year, but it would be Meals on Wheels style. In the late afternoon, they arrived with a large sack and a styro cooler (heater?) full of hot turkey, stuffing, gravy, salad, and cranberry sauce. With many “pantomimed hugs” and a zillion “Thank Yous” and “I love yous”, they departed. But we didn’t eat alone. The spirit of love enveloped us all evening.

  15. Phil (Brown Marlin) - November 27, 2020 3:16 pm

    Thanks, Sean. I have said a prayer for Mary that she will fully recover, and for Jamie and you who help care for her.
    We did have a happy thanksgiving, even though it was pretty laid back without the whole family able to be together because of “you know what” that is gripping the world. It was also my wife’s birthday, which made it even better, and we long-distance face-timed with others. Lots of laughs. Then we ate like we were the Atlanta Falcons offensive line. In spite of all things ugly that are going on, we are blessed and thankful.

  16. Virginia Russell - November 27, 2020 3:17 pm

    We zoomed—from Boone, NC, to Greenville, Beaufort. and Rockhill SC, to Statesboro and Marietta GA. And then my daughter and I ate way too much.

  17. Cele LeBlanc - November 27, 2020 4:03 pm

    You make me cry or laugh every day. On this day after the official Thanksgiving, I am thankful for you and your gift! Thanks for sharing with us all.

  18. Linda Moon - November 27, 2020 5:41 pm

    I’m so thankful Mother Mary and her “children” spent Thanksgiving together. My guy and I missed our Family Gathering this year. It was happy for the family, even though an uninvited bear grabbed potato chips from the car that belongs to someone I know and love so much. Next year, I hope she and her sister keep the car windows closed, the doors locked, and that my guy and I will be in Bear Country with them. There’s a happy ending…the young girls survived the thieving bear. And here’s a big bear-hug from me to your family, especially Mother Mary!

  19. Jenny Young - November 27, 2020 7:56 pm

    Happy Thanksgiving Sean. Mother Mary looked absolutely beautiful in the video yesterday. If the drs haven’t checked for diabetes, losing a lot of weight is one of the first symptoms. And you can feel amazing at first because your levels are so high.

    We had a bonfire in a clearing our woods. We roasted hotdogs & marshmallows. I made chili.

    I also sneaked down a very dark wooded trail to the lake with a 3 yr old looking for beavers. We each carried a tiny battery operated tealight & a child’s lantern. We didn’t see any beavers ….I think because the 3 yr old kept shushing me loudly…& he insisted on throwing rocks in the water. 🙂

  20. Martha Young - November 27, 2020 10:05 pm

    It seems many lose weight when they get older. My husband has never been heavy but now he is almost a skelton for some unknown to the doctors reaston. I am feeding him well and pushing Boost and Ensure in hope of an added pound or two. Will be thinking of Mother Mary altho if she is like me, she is secretly happy to be thin. Prayers all goes well.

  21. Mary - November 28, 2020 3:10 am

    Came a had their Thanksgiving a couple of weeks ago. Thanks, in general, is an American holiday.

  22. maryj - November 28, 2020 3:11 am

    Should read Canada not Came. Set up spell check!

  23. Nancy M - November 28, 2020 6:16 am

    Praying for Mother Mary and for you and Jaime.
    We were just the two of us, Zoom chatted with our sons and their families, then ate such a big dinner we had no room for dessert! We ate in the dining room with the good china. Thankful we have each other and that we’re in relatively good health, as are our sons and their families and their in-laws.

  24. Joy T Lane - December 1, 2020 4:30 am

    My mother and grandmother recently moved back home to Santa Rosa county to be closer to me and my family. Mom has been Nonnie’s care giver for years now. She is 75, Nonnie is 94. Nonnie has been a patient with at home Hospice care for about a year now. Still, she was in fairly good health. We all planed on having Thanksgiving dinner at my home. Unfortunately, on Tuesday Nonnie’s health took a turn for the worse. She (and mom) couldn’t make the short trip to my house. We loaded up the food and went to their house. It was our last Thanksgiving with Nonnie. She passed away today. (Monday). I’m thankful that we went to mom’s. It was hard, but we were together. Jamie and Mother Mary will be in my prayers.

  25. Paula Pace - December 1, 2020 2:43 pm

    You are always telling us that you love us. I think it is appropriate for me to tell you just how much we love YOU! You bring light and joy and tenderness and caring to us, your readers, and I hope you know how much your writing enriches our lives. You can’t know how reading your column ever day uplifts me and makes me smile. I would like to send you one of my prized Lewis Grizzard books. Is there an address I could use to send something to you and your precious wife? If so, please let me know @ the address this email came from.

    Have a blessed Christmas season. I’ll be adding mother Mary to my prayers.




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