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Reaching for the silver lining this holiday season
There may be an empty place at the table for some, but these local families are finding ways to connect
Julie Simmons
Last year, Julie and Michael Simmons were matched and planning to adopt their son, Levi, from China. “The process to bring him home should have been easily over by last summer ... we are having to process the very real possibility that we will spend another holiday season without him,” Julie Simmons said.

This article appears in the November issue of  400 Life Magazine

Annual family traditions are what make holiday celebrations special. There seems to be a sense of comfort that comes with sharing a meal together, watching the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in the morning and football in the afternoon. But 2020 has been anything but normal and some of our holiday traditions won’t look the same as years past.

In the Bader family, Thanksgiving Day is celebrated with close family and friends. There is a big turkey dinner, cornhole games in the backyard, and always a football game playing on TV. What makes this so special is getting to share a meal together and sitting around talking long after the meal is over and pumpkin pie has been served.

Last year, Julie and Michael Simmons were matched and planning to adopt their son, Levi, from China, shown in a the photo.
Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic there are some families in this community adjusting their plans because they won’t be able to spend Thanksgiving how they had hoped. 

Julie Simmons is a mom of four who works at Browns Bridge Church as the service programming director. 

For her family, Thanksgiving is the official start to the holiday season. They watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade together, spend the morning cooking recipes from both sides of the family, and prepare to decorate for Christmas. 

“This year will likely not be terribly different for our family, which is actually what’s so hard for us,” Julie states, “We were hoping that this year would be a completely different holiday season for us.” 

Last year, Julie and her husband, Michael, were matched and planning to adopt their son, Levi, from China. 

“The process to bring him home should have been easily over by last summer, even considering delays, but now as we are looking at the months ahead, we are having to process the very real possibility that we will spend another holiday season without him.”

The adoption process has been delayed due to COVID-19 travel restrictions and safety precautions. While they hope to be able to travel to China before the holidays, they are setting different expectations this year with their daughters Emma and Nora, and son Owen, who they also adopted from Henan, China in 2017.

“We are adjusting to celebrate as much as we can with our kids who are here, and hug them even tighter because we are so aware of what it feels like to be missing one of them,” Julie said. 

A holiday away from Mom

Lainey Bradley is a high school special education teacher in Forsyth County. In her family, Thanksgiving is celebrated by enjoying a meal together with extended family and friends who may not be traveling or have any extended relatives with whom to celebrate.

This year will be different for the Bradley family because they will be spending the day without Lainey’s mom, Sharon. 

“The pandemic causes major changes in our holiday celebration. Currently, my mom is quarantined in her assisted living community. Residents are only allowed to leave for mandatory doctor appointments so the likelihood she will be allowed time away to attend a holiday gathering with family is very low,” Lainey said.

While this isn’t what she expected or hoped for, Lainey will still find a way to create memories with her mom.

Lainey Bradley
Lainey Bradley, left, and her family will miss having her mother, Sharon, center, on Thanksgiving Day. Sharon is quarantined in an assisted living community. Lainey said they will be doing ‘frequent FaceTime calls’ and ‘will deliver home-cooking to her assisted living community.’
“To stay connected, we will be doing frequent FaceTime calls which has been our main form of communication since March. We will deliver home-cooking to her assisted living community so she can experience a taste of what our togetherness would normally be.”

This year has helped put into perspective what is normally taken for granted. 

“We have continually reminded ourselves, on days that we feel especially down, that the vulnerable and susceptible members of our family have remained healthy up to this point, and in the case of my mom, she is in a safe place,” Lainey said. “After so many families around the country and world have lost their loved ones, we want to maintain a perspective of gratitude for this, not just at Thanksgiving but for as long as the pandemic alters life as we knew it.”

When traditions that are always an expected part of holiday celebrations are taken away, it’s easy to become discouraged but Lainey refuses to let the change in her family’s plans take away the meaning of this season. 

“We can’t stop reaching for the silver linings, or our sadness will be absorbed by the people who are counting on us to stay connected,” she said. 

“My advice is to take time during the holiday season to send a note, a handmade surprise, or make a FaceTime call and find a way to include the most isolated people you know into your everyday moments this year.”

All in all, 2020 has been an unexpected and much-needed lesson to focus on what is most important. 

May this upcoming holiday season and stories like Julie and Lainey’s serve as a reminder to find connection with a community of people, spend more time with family, and continually seek to be grateful for the meaningful gifts in life.

Story my Nicole Bader Jones for 400 Life magazine.