I’m Dreading COVID Holiday Planning

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I'm Dreading COVID Holiday PlanningEvery year, it is the worst conversation my husband and I have.

Where and with whom are we going to spend the holidays?

His family lives far away and expects a holiday visit. My family lives a little closer, but also expects to see their grandchildren for the holidays. We both kind of relish making memories with just our little family in our little home. Then there are extended family get togethers taking place at various times across various states from November to January. Oh, the guilt trips. “They got Christmas morning last year.” “You missed the last two Thanksgivings.”

Like I said, it’s the worst conversation we have every year.

Every October, I can feel the anxiety rising knowing it’s about time to start planning the holidays. I scramble to remember exactly where we went last year and how long we were there. That familiar feeling crept up last week when my mom casually mentioned Thanksgiving plans, except something deeper than anxiety — panic? — flooded in as I realized WE ARE GOING TO HAVE TO MAKE THESE DECISIONS DURING A PANDEMIC.

Not just any pandemic, but one that is specifically targeting the elderly. Who are the main people we try to visit during the holidays? THE ELDERLY. By a quick count of the 26 people who usually attend my family’s Thanksgiving dinner, 16 of them are over 60, obese, and have diabetes/high blood pressure/COPD. (Yeah, we’re not the healthiest bunch.)

Everything in my gut says we cannot gather together this year. Under any circumstances.

It will be too cold to do anything outside. Not that it would matter anyway because my family will not remember to stay six feet apart even outdoors. (I know every one of you reading this right now can already name that one aunt who will hug and kiss you while you stiff arm her.) I love these people too much to risk their health in the name of “tradition.”

But how do you tell your 88-year-old grandmother that you’re not coming for Christmas this year? How do you tell your children that they won’t see their cousins for Thanksgiving? And maybe the hardest question: how do you tell anyone your plans when they don’t agree?

Here’s the kicker: our families are already making holiday plans as if everything was normal. Some are carrying on as if the virus is not a big deal. Their brazenness openly mocking our commitment to follow current guidelines. How on earth do we make plans without damaging relationships? I refuse to let this virus steal anything else.

Here is where I have arrived after talking with people much smarter than me. We are all grieving the loss of normalcy this year. The way people deal with that grief varies. Some are trying to manifest normal by pretending everything is fine. Others are feeling all the emotions but choosing to mitigate risk. Tears are going to flow from everyone, but that doesn’t mean you should compromise your convictions.

We’ve got to do what is best for our own families, but we also need to respect that everyone is doing the best they can with the information they have. Let’s choose to make holiday plans this year with confidence and without judgment. Guilt trips are not okay. You are not responsible for other people’s feelings, but you are responsible for speaking with compassion. Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes,’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’

Holidays are going to be different this year. None of us imagined we would be here. Nothing has gone as planned, but we cannot let pandemic fatigue lead us into making unsafe choices. Let’s keep some perspective that this will not last forever. The pandemic will eventually end. We will get to enjoy normal holiday events again. Next year, I might even look forward to those anxiety-ridden holiday planning conversations!

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