Pulling the plug on Thanksgiving to avoid pulling the plug in the ICU

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Thanksgiving is, hands-down, my favorite holiday.  When I was a soldier stationed in Germany, I scheduled my leave so I could be home for Thanksgiving. For the last 28 or 30 years my family and I have gone to my sister Jennifer’s for Thanksgiving dinner. When Jen and I were having a reproductive arms race, with alternating babies in 1991, 1992, 1994, 1995 and 1996, each Thanksgiving dinner was a time to show off new life in front of a bunch of extended family members and friends. When my wife and I split up in 2000, I made sure the girls would be with me on Thanksgiving. Christmas be damned! That gratitude-filled November feast day was what mattered.

I bought a cabin last February, just in time for being housebound for what seemed like forever. The previous owners had separate living rooms (?), so the husband could watch tv in one room while his wife read in the other. Since my marriage dissolved after 12 years, and this couple has been together for 30, it’s not my place to judge — although I will of course. When I moved in, I turned the larger living room into a dining room and bought a beautiful dining set with, you guessed it, Thanksgiving in mind.

I think I’ve established my Thanksgiving bona fides, but yesterday I had to face hard facts: despite my love for Thanksgiving, I need to cancel family celebrations for the year of our demon two-thousand-twenty. With all of New Hampshire a COVID-19 hotspot, and with the seven-day totals of confirmed cases continuing to rise at a crazy pace, I’ve made the personally devastating decision to celebrate Thanksgiving at home, with no guests.

Instead of a tribal gathering this year, Thanksgiving 2020 will consist of just the people who live with me, my oldest daughter and her boyfriend.  We’ll have, I’m sure, a wonderful time, but not the day I’d dreamed of, with my three daughters, their boyfriends, my ex-wife, a friend of mine and his six-year-old son. This year will offer a lovely meal — deep-fried turkey, cornbread oyster stuffing, creamed spinach, etc.— but I won’t be able to picture the room with Libby and Becca and Meri and the as-yet-to-be-conceived-much-less-born grandchildren.

That vision will have to wait for another day, but this decision may make unnecessary another vision. I don’t need to picture a beautiful Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends gathered around, one or more of them carrying the COVID-19 virus. I don’t need to envision a tiny infected droplet coming out of someone’s mouth as they laugh at my hilarious jokes. I don’t need to think about the virus travelling into me and infecting me. I don’t need the mental image of dying alone in an ICU bed before Christmas has come and gone. I don’t need to see in my mind’s eye my COVID-caused sparsely-attended funeral.

Wiping all that away, I can give thanks for this Thanksgiving, that we’re all alive and healthy, even if we can’t be together. At the end of every Passover Seder, folks say, “Next year in Jerusalem.” I’m not Jewish, but I will end this year’s Thanksgiving dinner with a similar phrase: “Next year in Dad’s dining room.”

I know I don’t want to die from COVID-19. In fact, I’d prefer not to die at all, but if I must, I’ve already envisioned my death a thousand times: I want to die at 94, shot in the back by a jealous boyfriend. No virus, no ICU, just a smile on my face.

Keith HowardKeith Howard is Executive Director of HOPE for NH Recovery and author of Tiny White Box.

About this Author


Keith Howard

Executive DirectorHope Recovery

Keith Howard is Executive Director of Hope for NH Recovery and author of Tiny White Box