I was sitting in my kitchen this morning drinking coffee, as is my usual routine on a Saturday. On this particular morning, I was looking at the empty chairs around my dining room table. These antique dark pine Windsor chairs are well-loved and aged with a patina that includes many layers of memories from family gatherings in their previous life.
Acquired in a recent move, this was their first holiday season to host my family and friends. In just a few short days, their seats should be filled with loved ones as we gather to celebrate Thanksgiving. But this is not the year these chairs will hold my friends and extended family, as we have chosen to forego our usual celebrations. As I think of my empty chairs, done so by choice, I can’t help but think of how many other empty chairs there will be this holiday season.
With now more than 250,000 Americans dead from the COVID-19 pandemic, there are countless families with chairs now permanently empty at their family table. As this virus has ravaged entire households, some families may have two or three empty chairs. Those chairs that previously held grandparents, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, husbands, wives, and children- all now vacant. For some, this may represent an entire generation gone from their place at the family table. Empty chairs at tables surrounded by broken hearts.
As a physician, I am all too familiar with death. Each year, a piece of my heart aches as I remember the families of patients I have lost, now navigating through their first holiday season without them. And it is my work as a physician that does not give me the luxury of staying at home. I am cautious as I try to safely navigate through a world permeated with this virus, but there will always be some risk. While I have accepted this risk — as day in and day out, I care for patients — it is a risk that I am not willing to accept when it comes to those that I love and hold most dear. While I have the role of physician out in the world, it is the roles I fill at home that I treasure most. Those roles aren’t often at odds, but when they are, sacrifices must be made. And we will always do so willingly for the sake of safety.
Now that the busy anticipation of Thanksgiving has abruptly ended and I find myself grieving the loss of time and tradition, I am grateful this is all that I grieve. Although my chairs appear empty this Thanksgiving, they are filled with the hope and anticipation of when they will hold loved ones again.
Megan Davis is a physician.
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