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“Stay Home!!” for the Holidays?

What are you doing for the holidays this year?

One of the many ways that the pandemic has altered our lives in 2020 is the impact it has on family gatherings:  birthdays, weddings, funerals and family reunions.  In addition to the conversations about what to do in planning an event, we have all asked the question, “should we?”   Is it safe to attend?  Am I putting myself or others at risk? 

Getting together with family during the holiday season is deeply embedded in our traditions.  Over the 2020 Thanksgiving weekend, the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) estimated that more than four million people traveled by air to be with family and friends, making it the busiest week for air travel since the pandemic began in March. This despite warnings from the CDC and state and local officials about the risks. There are 14 holidays observed in December by various communities of faith in the US. According to the website, National Today, that translates into 98 “days” of celebration. Is it any wonder that people’s thoughts turn to home and family at this time of year?

I’ve been blogging for several years, and a recurring theme of my posts from Decembers past has been about holidays and home: family and food and time together. Scanning through my social media feed, I see many posts from friends commenting on the conflicts they feel between the desire to be together and the concerns over the risks. Those with aging parents, or loved ones at-risk for COVID, as well as those working in health care are passionate in their pleas for social distancing, wearing masks and avoiding large groups. And many more, are posting photos and memories from past years, looking forward to times when they can gather together again.  

One of the hardest things to accept about the pandemic is that some of the things we most enjoy about the holidays — the close contact, sharing a meal, singing, laughing or hugging someone you haven’t seen in a while — are among the behaviors that spread the virus. It is a real issue. For many of us, the decision to scale back our holiday plans, or cancel them altogether, is difficult but necessary. This year we may call, or FaceTime or Zoom together.  Maybe the gift giving or cookie exchange becomes a “drive-by” affair. These things will go a long way to help reduce the risk and keep our loved ones safe and healthy. But, we have to admit, it won’t be quite the same.

So, if you are among those of us who are grieving the loss of a holiday gathering, consider this: That sense of loss that you feel? Imagine if that was part of your everyday life.  

It is estimated that up to 16 percent of adults age 65 and older experience chronic loneliness. The percentage is likely higher among those in institutional care. Social isolation or chronic loneliness is more than missing a family event or spending an evening alone. It is a disconnection from society and social relationships. Social isolation increases the likelihood of hospitalization, depression and loss of independence. It is a significant health issue for older adults.  
Each year, the Eldercare Locator's annual Home for the Holidays campaign encourages discussion of important issues affecting older Americans at a time of the year when family and friends often gather. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we live and interact with one another. This year, holiday gatherings will be different due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which encourages physical distancing, particularly for older adults who are most susceptible to the negative health impacts of the disease.

So even if we can’t gather in person, there are other ways you can help people connect for the holidays.   Make a phone call, send an e-mail or write a note to a loved one. Set up a conference call for your family and friends to help share the day together from afar.   

And if your usual holiday outings are on hold this year, there are still ways you can safely volunteer to help those older adults in our community in need. Volunteers can make telephone wellness checks, run errands for those who are homebound, send note cards or find other ways to help people connect from a distance.   

One of the many life lessons we can learn from the pandemic is how much we need and appreciate our time with those we love. That will be true when the pandemic is over, too.   

May you find many reasons to be thankful during the holiday season.