Having a birthday at the end of November has always been sweet. Often my birthday falls between the Thursday and the Sunday of Thanksgiving week, which gave preretired me the day off work. I get to celebrate with family gathering for Thanksgiving, and who better to observe a birthday with than the people responsible for it? Unlike Christmas, there isn’t the stress of holiday shopping and decorating — at least not for me, although I’m happy to get presents.
This year my birthday falls on Thanksgiving Day. I may be spending it alone because of the pandemic.
Like everyone else, I’ve been struggling with what to do about Thanksgiving. My brother and sister-in-law will have 9 people at their home, including themselves. The advisory in their county, Will, allows up to 10 people. Health experts, however, are urging us to celebrate only with those who live with us. That would mean I’d spend the day alone.
Rick and Jeannine are taking precautions, especially to protect Mom, age 93, who has not seen us indoors since March. Mom will eat in the living room with one other person. After those in the dining room eat, they will put on masks and chat with Mom for as long as she wants. Then someone will return her to her assisted-living home.
Having done an excellent job of keeping residents from contracting covid, the home’s management is now trying to balance mental health with physical health. It will give pre- and post-Thanksgiving covid tests to those who spend Thanksgiving with their families.
“What if this turns out to be the last Thanksgiving for a resident?” the manager commented to me in a phone call last week, explaining the decision to allow residents out for the holiday. Throughout 2019, no one in my family expected it would be the last Easter, Father’s Day, birthday, and Thanksgiving for our seemingly healthy dad, who died December 22.
I’ll be honest: I’m worried about my mental health more than my mother’s. She is going to have Thanksgiving with family regardless, and one person fewer isn’t going to take much away from her enjoyment (unless the person she’s thinking about is my dad). I don’t want to be alone on my birthday.
Since my mother’s place will allow octogenarians and nonagenarians to have Thanksgiving with their families, could I give myself permission? I could have a covid test and quarantine until my sister Pat picks me up on Thursday; keep a mask on at my brother’s; be tested again when I return and quarantine until I know the results. As many health experts have said, the testing and quarantining approach isn’t foolproof but “does give you some measure of protection,” a Northwestern Medicine physician said in the Chicago Tribune.
How do we make these decisions? I recently kept a commitment to help package hot meals for my church’s food ministry. It could be argued that feeding the hungry is an essential activity. I have offered to give a friend’s parents one of my Chicago Greeter tours. We’d have the relative safety of the outdoors. Last week I got a haircut and took public transportation to see an exhibit before the museum shutdowns. Neither was essential. Everything is a calculated risk, one decision may not be consistent with the one before, but a thing I’ve been conscious of all along is how isolation affects mental health.
“It may be important for many people’s mental health to see their family members for the holidays, and testing can help facilitate that,” Dr. Rahul Khare, CEO of Innovative Express Care, told the Tribune. “There’s nothing wrong with seeing them, but do it responsibly.”
As my family focused on keeping Mom safe, I reminded myself of my responsibility to not spread the virus back in Chicago. If I go to my brother’s, I’ll repeat the test and quarantine strategy afterwards.
As soon as Thanksgiving is over, we’ll be thinking about what to do about Christmas. My sister Nancy has invited us all, including Mom, to suburban Indianapolis as long as we each have a covid test and quarantine beforehand. I would need to test and quarantine two more times, before and after that visit.
To keep my options open for Thanksgiving, I stood in line for 2½ hours Saturday to have a covid test and prepared to quarantine for the four days following. Thoughts about what to do flip-flop several times a day. I may not make a final choice until I wake up on Thursday.