Of all the Thanksgiving I ever imagined with my mom, I don’t think I could ever have imagined this one.

A Thanksgiving where Mom couldn’t even leave her room for Thanksgiving dinner. Not to go to a relative’s house to be with family. Not even to eat with the other residents of her assisted living community in their dining room. I certainly could never have imagined being able to bring Thanksgiving dinner to Mom, but not being able to eat it with her. Because just sharing a meal together was too great a risk.

But such is life in these COVID-19 times. A lot of us are living lives we never could have imagined.

And so it was that I got up early this Thanksgiving morning. I made the cranberry sauce first so it would have time to chill in the fridge. I roasted the sweet potatoes, browned the sausage for the dressing , ran and picked up ice cream to go with the apple and pear buy I bought yesterday. All of this by 9 a.m. By 10, I started assembling everything and putting this dish on the stove and that one in the oven. By 12, I was showered and washing the holiday Wedgewood dishes that Mom loves any year, but especially this one because she is so “sick and tired of eating out of styrofoam containers!”

“Please promise me,” Mom has told me more than once since her assisted living community went on lockdown, that if I die in the middle of this, you will not use styrofoam containers at my funeral…because I will come back and kill you!”

By 1 p.m., I was at Mom’s community. Signing in, getting my temperature checked, washing my hands, putting that plastic thing over my face, and trying to keep the two bags of food from the dog who lives in Mom’s assisted living community and, today, thought I was the most interesting thing going. A staff member appeared to escort me to Mom’s room and by 1:05, I  was busy unloading everything and getting Mom set-up to eat.

She was chipper, as Mom likes to say. Frankly, I’m not sure if it was my cooking, the Wedgewood…or the Diet Dr. Pepper. I didn’t care. Mom was happy and, from the day she moved into assisted living in October 2018, I have considered my mother’s happiness among my top jobs.

As I watched Mom eat…from six feet away and while still in my mask and plastic contraption, I felt a brief wave of sadness come over me. Maybe you know it. It’s the same wave that has crashing down on a lot of folks’ lives these days. The wave that whispers in our ear, “It’s not the same, is it?” The one that makes us long for what was. I’ll admit, for a few minutes, I felt myself sinking under that wave’s force.

But then Mom asked me for more cranberry sauce. She showed me her clean plate. “I don’t even think you’ll have to wash it. I pretty much licked the plate clean!” She told me that, while she could not eat another bite, “Don’t you dare think about taking that pie out of here.”

As Moms do, or at least as my mom does, she broke the spell of sadness. She shook me out of what-no-longer-is so that I could join her in what-is-now. And be part of the happiness, the love, the fullness. That is different to be sure, but still very much alive.

A reason to give thanks indeed!

The Mom Chronicles is a blog series about a middle-aged son learning to care for his elderly mother.