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Shifting through boxes in my over-cluttered garage, I found a bag filled with old clothes.

At a stranger’s glance, the bag would be ordinary and disposable, but I knew it as something else.

As I peeked inside, I saw the contents of the bag my mom took with her to the hospital. I saw her brush, her little pill box and the clothes she never got to wear home.

Despite never having thought much about her scent before, the smell of the bag hit me like an ocean wave. It overcame me and left me in a state of deep grief.

Smell is an amazing sense; you rarely think about it, but it has the ability to transport you back to a place or a person instantly.

Today, as I am cooking my mother’s old broccoli casserole recipe, I have a similar yet different reaction to scent. This scent makes me feel joy and contentment, gratitude for all the time we did have together and our precious memories.

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and I expect smells around the table to bring back memories of my mother, who always bustled around the kitchen early Thanksgiving Day while the rest of us slept in.

She was a constant caregiver, never complaining over our lack of help.

This year has not been the easiest, for many of us. Where there should have been celebrations, parties, weddings and fancy restaurants, we instead had bulk hand sanitizer, sweatpants, “Tiger King” and work Zooms in pajamas.

Moreover, with a second wave of the virus looming, we might not get to do our traditional Thanksgivings with large gatherings around the table, but we still get a special opportunity.

We get the opportunity to practice more gratitude than grumbling. More giving of thanks than of gifts – a time to just notice how incredibly lucky we are despite everything we have been complaining about the past nine months.

This year, my sisters and I will miss our mother so deeply, but the smells of casseroles, fresh pies and newly popped bottles of wine will remind us of beautiful memories. The sight of the Macy’s parade and premature Christmas lights will make us smile.

Through it all, we will practice gratitude for what we do have this year by laughing, drinking, dancing and, of course, eating. We will fill the house with sounds of joy and thanksgiving, just what she would want to hear. And she will be there, in each of us.

Although we’ve lost a lot this year as individuals and communities, my challenge to us is to focus, just for a few days, on all that we have gained and all that we have to look forward to.

I think we will see that there is even more to be thankful for than we thought.

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