One of the bright spots during the damp, dreary month of November is Thanksgiving. But in 2020, COVID-19 has cast a dark shadow on the holiday, just as it has on pretty much all of the traditions and activities that were the norm.

The prospect of not being able to host a large gathering on Thanksgiving – as we have done every one of my daughter’s 17 years – along with uncertainty over holiday season travel plans and frustration over a high school senior year full of cancellations all combined to leave Ellen feeling blue last week.

When she told me she was out of sorts, my first inclination was to give her the “Mom speech” about how she has nothing to whine about because things were a lot rougher when her Grandma Marica was in high school,

But I paused before I started lecturing Ellen about how, during the Great Depression, her grandma had no social media, only a radio for entertainment and that the longest trip she took was to Winnipeg, with her parents in a pokey car.

As I let Ellen’s grumblings sink in, I realized that I shared her frustrations, and that it is unsettling to have life upended by something beyond our control. However, I knew it would show empathy to acknowledge to Ellen that I felt the same way, and it wouldn’t help either of us if we had a “pity party.” Instead, I wanted to find a way to improve our outlook.

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Then I recalled something I read about making a gratitude list at the end of every day. The thesis is that if we make a list of things we’re thankful for, we realize how many blessings we have instead of missing what we don’t have.

I shared my idea with Ellen, who immediately was on board. For the past week each night after supper, Brian, Ellen and I have shared our gratitude lists. Ours are made up of simple things: “The delicious spaghetti Dad made for supper. That our puppy, Nova, gets me out of my chair and into the outdoors. That I went on an early morning walk today.”

Besides reminding me to be grateful for life’s simple pleasures, the gratitude list also has made me more aware of the things around me that I had tended to overlook. For example, the other morning when I took Nova out to go potty at 5 a.m. and saw the stars glittering overhead, I made a mental note to myself to put their beauty on that day’s gratitude list.

I know many people’s lives have been torn apart by the pain of a loved one’s death during the pandemic, and I don’t want to trivialize their sorrow. The frustration my family has experienced the past eight months isn't anything comparable to the death of a loved one. But I also know that when three of the people who were closest to me – my mom, dad and brother – died in the midst of my heart-wrenching pain, there were still things for which to be grateful: a card from a friend, a warm hug from my husband and the steadfast love of God.

Although four things on my gratitude list are different every day, the latter is one that never changes. God is on this journey with us, no matter how easy or how hard it is, and I’m thankful for that on Thanksgiving and every day before and after it.

Heartfelt wishes for a blessed, gratitude-filled holiday.

Ann Bailey is a Grand Forks Herald reporter who also writes personal columns twice per month.