Editor’s Note: Joe Biden is the President-elect of the United States. Jill Biden is the future first lady of the United States, an educator and a bestselling author. The views expressed in this commentary are their own. View more opinion on CNN.
This Thanksgiving, tables throughout our country will have an empty chair.
It may be for the loved one who can’t travel or the parent stationed overseas. Perhaps it’s for your sister or brother just across town – staying away to protect everyone during this pandemic, making sure next year will be celebrated together.
For the families of the Americans lost this year, that chair is another reminder that someone they love will never come home again.
Over the years, the traditions our family created became sacred rituals: making family recipes, passed down from generation to generation, in a warm, crowded kitchen; setting the table with fresh flowers and lighting candles; playing football and games of checkers; taking our ever-growing family photo. Traditions helped us find joy after having our own empty chair at the table. They remind us that, even as so much changes, the bonds of family don’t.
This year, our turkey will be smaller and the clatter of cooking a little quieter. There will be no family walks in the cold or playful bickering amongst the grandkids. Like millions of Americans, we are temporarily letting go of the traditions we can’t do safely.
It is not a small sacrifice. These moments with our loved ones – time that’s lost – can’t be returned. Yet, we know it’s the price of protecting each other and one we don’t pay alone. Isolated in our own dining rooms and kitchens, scattered from coast to coast, we are healing together.
Still, like you, our family will hold on to our most important tradition: taking a moment to count the many reasons we have to be grateful.
We are grateful for the frontline workers who have never stopped showing up over these long and confusing months, making sure our food is harvested and shipped, keeping our grocery stores stocked, picking up our trash, and keeping our cities and towns safe.
We are grateful for the health care workers who put in long shifts and isolate themselves from their loved ones, the nurses who comfort and help people say one last goodbye, and the doctors who fight for every breath.
We are grateful for the educators who learned to teach in virtual classrooms almost overnight, who did extra work to reach families without adequate technology or who took late-night phone calls from parents on the verge of tears.
We are grateful for the parents who have carried their families through the chaos, working or searching for a job, while navigating childcare and remote learning.
We are grateful for the researchers and scientists who have spent this year learning everything they can to understand how to fight this pandemic and are working tirelessly to find a vaccine and therapeutics.
We are grateful for the American spirit of our people, who do not cower in the face of crisis and hardship but instead come together to lift up one another. All those who lost jobs but not heart, who donated to food banks or asked their neighbors, What can I do? How can I help? We’re grateful for everyone who reminded us that we are bigger than the challenges we face.
Most of all, we are grateful for the faith and trust we have been given to continue serving this beautiful, brave, complicated nation as your future President and first lady.
This year of loss has revealed our collective strength. It has shown us that our lives are connected in ways unseen – that we can be apart without being alone.
As the temperatures drop and the nights become longer, these are the truths that will light our way forward.
We must hold on to our gratitude for the people who show up every day and make our communities stronger. With courage, compassion and a commitment to fight for what we believe in, there is nothing this country can’t do.
May the emptiness at our tables and in our hearts be filled with memories of love and laughter. May we cherish our traditions, even when they are out of reach, and hold on to the hope of what’s still to come. We’re going to get through this together, even if we have to be apart.
Happy Thanksgiving, from the Biden family to yours.
If you want to read this op-ed in Spanish, click here.