RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- This Thanksgiving is the first major holiday for thousands of families in North Carolina and the hundreds of thousands across the country grieving loved ones lost to COVID-19.
Their empty chairs will be apparent, as will the void in their loved ones' hearts.
"It's a dreaded disease, and to go on without your loved ones is really, really painful," Cynthia Wilson, who lost three family members to COVID-19, said. "This virus is real and one thing I can say to viewers is that masks, washing hands and keeping distance saves lives."
Wilson's niece, Karen Wilson, was just 54 when she died after a weeks-long battle with the virus. Her cousins, Ruth Jones Clark, 63, and Merland Nipper, 78, also fell ill and succumbed to the disease.
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"She always liked soul food," Ken Wilson, Cynthia's husband, says of his niece. "When she come down South she always looked forward to soul food."
Ruth, meanwhile, was known for her boisterous laughter.
"It was like we would laugh until we would cry," Cynthia recalls. "It was deep and heartfelt. I'm going to miss that."
Normally, the Wilsons would host some 30 people for a bountiful Thanksgiving at their longtime Raleigh home. This year, it will be Ken, Cynthia, their daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren all of whom live locally.
Cynthia's mother, the Wilsons' son and his family will not be attending out of caution.
"That's so heartbreaking to tell them (not to come)," Cynthia said. "It is what it is. We have to abide by the mandate. We want to be safe. We want them to be safe."
But that's where the gift of technology comes in handy.
"We've already started setting up zooms."
The Wilsons are also filled with gratitude even amidst their loss.
"The blessing is we have each other, and we have our children and grandchildren. We lost family members, but it could've been much more."