Heather Hutsell, right, with, from left, her sisters Sarah and Laura and her mother, Nancy. (Source: Provided)

Every year, I spend my Thanksgiving holiday with my family in South Carolina.

It’s a tiring and unamusing 10-hour trek by car, yet I do it because it’s the easiest time to get down there to see everyone, and nothing can quite beat the shenanigans that go on in my sister’s kitchen when we all get together to cook.

It’s a time that I simultaneously wish could be recorded and broadcast to all ends of the earth and yet am grateful no one beyond her house ever has the chance to witness it. It’s a pretty good time and it’s inevitable that one of my nephews is going to say something kooky and memorable, as young boys often do.

This year, however, will be different. With the holidays rapidly approaching and COVID-19 showing no signs of leaving the scene in the foreseeable future, I and a lot of other folks are faced with having to make some tough decisions about how we are handling this year’s holiday get-togethers.

I am fortunate that I am able to work from home, so a 14-day quarantine to be sure I’m not exposed to the virus is fairly easy. However, for my sister and her husband, who must still spend a few days a week in their offices, it’s not.

The same goes for thousands of other Americans who simply do not have a choice and must be in public and therefore potentially in the presence of the coronavirus at any given moment.

Another complication that I have personally faced is in having family members recently test positive for Covid-19. Four in my immediate family, to be exact. At this point, two have fully recovered, one is slower to bounce back, and one has died.

I suppose it is easy for some who have not experienced the Covid-related death of a family member—or even a close friend—to shrug off the idea of social distancing during the holidays. I can and already have heard it among my circles: “We’ll just wear masks and keep 6 feet apart.” I don’t know about you and yours, but my family is all about hugging, and unless you plan to bring your assigned green bean casserole ready-made to the feast, it’s always close quarters in the kitchen.

I know how my family is, and I know what we’ve already been through. The idea of losing one Thanksgiving with my remaining family sure sounds more bearable than the prospect of any one of us losing out on the rest of them.

“What are we supposed to do? How do we handle the holidays?” I’ve been reading this a lot on social media. I can’t make that call for anyone, I can only encourage being overly cautious. But who really has this option? Who ever does all of their holiday food shopping without forgetting one thing that they have to go back to the store for? Not me. There is always something, and I cannot imagine a bag of cranberries being worth the life of a loved one.

Maybe this is an overboard approach. Maybe nothing would actually happen if I changed my mind and decided to make the trip. Maybe everyone will be smart about how they do things this holiday season, and maybe everyone will be safe. That’s a lot of maybes.

With the cancellation or—at best—postponement of concerts, movie releases, comic cons, weddings, and a slew of other events we’ve been looking forward to, including holidays, if there’s one thing 2020 has taught us, it is that this is a year of slowing down, of introspection, and of sacrifice.

The Hutsell family's 2019 Thanksgiving dinner. From left, Heather's mother, Nancy, brother-in-law James, sister Sarah, Heather and sister Laura. (Source: Provided)
The Hutsell family's 2019 Thanksgiving dinner. From left, Heather's mother, Nancy, brother-in-law James, sister Sarah, Heather and sister Laura. (Source: Provided)

I don’t know when we will emerge and get to do things as we did in the Before Times, but I do know that we will, someday, and that rebirth into better times is a comforting series of moments to look forward to. It softens the sharpness of missing out on the laughs and stuffing myself in good company.

There’s still video chatting, and while it's not the same, at least it’s something. There have been many holidays I’ve missed sharing with family in the past, too, and remembering that makes it a little easier to stomach this one and look forward to a healthier, safer 2021.

In the meantime, I’m considering just how much longer than usual I’ll be able to stand eating turkey all day, every day. What websites are going to turn out the award-winning “Bet you never thought to do THIS with turkey leftovers!” recipes? Is it actually possible to get a grizzly bear-level tryptophan coma going, and will this be the year for it? I am tempted to try it. And if all else fails, maybe I’ll just double up the marshmallows on my sweet potatoes.

Whatever you choose to do, however you choose to spend your holidays, and whatever new traditions you may employ, please do so out of love and what that, at its core, means to you. And if you, too, opt to hold off on visiting family just this once, know that you’re still not alone, and many of us will have you in our thoughts.

Heather Hutsell