No Turkey, but Tombstones

When the sun rose on Thanksgiving morning, I inhaled a deep breath.

It was a holiday like never before.

As a family with a baby and toddler, no relatives nearby, no help with childcare, and both of us as healthcare workers, we had been running on empty since March. How our chests ached, yearned to see our family! But we chose not to travel, and told our family not to visit us, for everyone’s safety during the pandemic.

Despite our sheer exhaustion, I was still thankful. We’re still alive, thanks be to God. (As I write this, there have been 1425 healthcare workers who have died in the U.S. from fighting COVID.)

We didn’t bother with a turkey. We planned ham for dinner, and family video calls. The sound of squeals and laughter filled the air, accompanied by the thumping of tiny feet running across the hard wood floor.

After my husband prepared the stuffing, he slid the dish into the oven. “I’m ready now, let’s make our first phone call.”

Ring Ring

“Hello?!” she answered while sitting in the passenger seat of a car. “Oh Soapie, it’s so nice of you and your husband to call.”

Ming (Auntie), we are sorry we could not fly down to see you. We know it must be so hard for you, celebrating Thanksgiving without your son….”

“Thank you for thinking of me. We just visited him at the cemetery, actually. We saw some of his friends.”

“Oh?”

“Yes, we just got him a tombstone. And his friends are thankful, because when they miss him, that’s where they go to see him, and now they can see the tombstone.”

Things were not meant to be this way.

“And how are you doing…?” we asked.

“Oh, I’m okay…” There was no quiver in her voice, as if she had been asked the same question a hundred times before and rehearsed her answer. She updated us on tidbits of her life, her life that had flipped upside down, after my cousin died. But she could only keep up the appearance for so long.

“Sometimes, I ask myself…

Was I a good mother?

Did I do everything I could have, for him?

He was my only son.”

-my aunt

I blinked back my tears and swallowed a knot in my throat. My husband removed his glasses to wipe his eyes.

My cousin was only 28.

She arrived home, holding up her phone as she walked through the front door and towards the kitchen. “But look! See? We are still so blessed. Even though we lost our son, look how God takes care of us. Our neighbors gave us this Thanksgiving dinner. Then our friend gave us a whole bucket of fried chicken! SO MUCH FOOD!” She lifted up the dishes from her dining table.

We smiled. “Are you about to have dinner? Can we pray with you?”

“Yes, please.”

Though we were far apart, we could still gather in prayer. And although we did not understand why bad things happen, we knew that God was bigger than Coronavirus, and He was in control.

Thanks be to God.

~ ~ ~

By the end of the evening, we had finished our family phone calls and cleared our individual plates. There was still a ton of stuffing, potatoes, and green beans left. Our toddler devoured a lot of corn and pecan pie (and not much else). Our baby enjoyed green beans and corn, and flung the rest on the floor.

How could one be so full, with both gratitude…and grief?

I crouched down and scooped up the fallen pieces.

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