Marylee Sauder

Marylee Sauder

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

For many years, our Thanksgiving tradition has been to celebrate around a big table at our house — my family, my husband’s family and friends who are like family. Everyone talking, laughing and passing platters of our time-honored Thanksgiving favorites.

This year will be quite different.

For starters, we’re in the middle of a raging global pandemic. COVID-19 numbers are spiking, and public health experts recommend that we gather only with those who live under our roof.

For another, both of my parents died of COVID-19 in late April. We knew this holiday would be difficult, even when we thought the virus might be under control by now and we could all be together. The loss has been tremendous, and some days, I still can’t believe it is real.

This Thanksgiving, our larger family will not be together. My husband, our younger daughter, my father-in-law and I will have a low-key dinner together. We will miss our older daughter, my sister, my husband’s family and our close friends who usually celebrate with us, but we know it is the smart thing to do.

So many people have said, “Good luck over the holidays. It will be so sad.”

I am trying to frame it differently. In the midst of my loss, I want to be grateful. I am thankful that I grew up in a home where love and family were so important, and thankful that my family continues to build on that foundation.

This year has prompted me to consider what is most important and to live my life accordingly.

What are some things I am doing differently?

I still work hard, but I have consciously and purposefully made more time to connect with family and friends. When my parents were alive, I talked to them every day — sometimes more than once a day. Now, I call relatives, touch base with friends and send greeting cards to people I am thinking about more frequently than I ever did before. Why? Because tomorrow is not promised to any of us, and connection is important.

I have made a commitment to getting outside more often. My house might not be as clean as it used to be, but I am committed to riding my bike and taking hikes with friends as often as possible. I’ve noticed things I hadn’t stopped to notice before: beautiful leaves, a colorful bird, a historic house in the city. Getting outside helps us realize there is a larger world out there full of calmness and beauty.

I have gotten more creative in how I get together with friends during the pandemic, setting up walks and picnics, even in the cold. I also have set my sights on new hobbies, including bird-watching and sewing, and I have renewed my commitment to reading more books. Having positive activities to focus on, rather than my loss or the latest news cycle, is reducing my stress.

Any one of us can do these things —\!q and we should. But what about all of the injustice in the world? That needs attention, too. In remembering my parents’ volunteer work in support of social justice, I have taken on new leadership roles in things that matter to me, including anti-racism work. I believe none of us is healthy and whole until all of us are healthy and whole — and treated equally.

This Thanksgiving, I feel like the best way to honor my parents and the hundreds of thousands who have died from COVID-19 is to look for ways to live better. That is easier said than done, particularly for those who have lost jobs, are struggling to pay bills, are battling the virus or other illness, or have fallen into despair for any number of reasons.

But the rest of us can work to help others back onto their feet. We’re in this together.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Marylee Sauder is a Philadelphia native who, proudly, has called Lancaster home for many years.