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Holidays During a Pandemic

Scott Brookbank, OFM Features

The Christmas holidays can be a stressful time, especially when dealing with personal losses – which can include the loss of a relationship, a loved one, employment, your home. What makes the 2020 holiday season stressful is this time of the pandemic. Both the pandemic and the political climate are making life very uncertain for many of us. There is fear in the air – fear of getting the virus, fear of losing employment, and fear for the health of our loved ones.

With social media platforms at our fingertips, we can become saturated with people’s opinions and unreliable information about what is going on in our world today. New terms that have appeared in the media are COVID fatigue and COVID burnout. We are getting tired of precautions that we need to take – and for some, just hearing about it 24/7 is tiresome.

Tami Long, Ph.D., director of University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Employee Assistance and Counseling Center, says in an article, “COVID-19 fatigue and/or burnout implies a person has reached his or her capacity to cope and is experiencing various mental, emotional and physical symptoms as a result of the constant exposure to pandemic stressors, including social distancing, isolation from family/friends, fear of contracting COVID-19, numerous virtual meetings, grief, financial stress, and more.”

Appreciating Rituals and Modifying Traditions
We know that grief is experienced with any type of loss. A challenge many of us are facing this holiday season is how we will celebrate. After reviewing articles on grief and holidays, the following are some suggestions that might be helpful in navigating the traditions and expectations associated with this time of year. Remember that you are the expert of YOU – and, therefore, use what you feel will help you.

Rituals are a very important part of our lives. We have rituals for how we celebrate births, birthdays, how we gather for a meal, and how we do everyday chores. Within our faith traditions, we have rituals to celebrate all the rites of passage: birth, entering into adulthood, marriage, and death. Rituals give meaning to our lives and help us to express our emotions.

One can cancel the holiday, basically, take a “grief-check” – a raincheck – for next year. Some “experts” will say this is not a helpful option. However, you don’t have to put on a good face because others want you to, especially if it is the first holiday without a loved one.

If you feel that canceling participation in a traditional celebration is not an option for you, then reinvent the holiday. You do not have to celebrate the way you have done in the past. Give yourself permission to try something new.

Perhaps, watch an online movie. Or, have a Zoom conversation or a phone call with someone who is living alone. Instead of cooking, order a meal for delivery — or play online games that enable distance family members to join from different locations.

For those who have lost a loved one this year, rituals are ways to externalize what is happening inside of us. It is a way to express the loss. The following are some ways to ritualize and remember the person:

  • Place a lighted candle in front of a photo of the deceased person on the table or a prominent place.
  • Say a prayer for your loved one.
  • Share a favorite story about your loved one with a family member or friend.
  • Put your loved one’s favorite flowers on your holiday table in their memory.
  • Visit the cemetery and decorate the memorial site with holiday decorations.
  • Place a commemorative ornament on the Christmas tree.
  • Play your loved one’s favorite music.
  • Eat and enjoy one of your loved one’s favorite foods at the holiday meal.

After you have decided if and how you are going to celebrate the holiday, share your decision with those who need to know so that they know ahead of time. However, tell them you always can change your mind. You have the right to change your mind even on the holiday itself.

Self-care is very important. It is okay to set limits, and it’s important to remember that feelings are not wrong or right. They are your feelings and you have the right to feel those emotions at any time. Do not let anyone tell you that it is wrong to feel the way you do. It is appropriate to talk about the person who has died if you need to share your thoughts. Just remember to talk to those who are supportive.

These are some things that might help guide you through the emotions of the holiday season. You will be able to get through it. You are stronger than you think.

But most of all, remember that there is someone ready to listen to you 24/7 – God! God can handle anything that you experience: anger, joy, and tears. May you feel God’s love this holiday season.

Scott Brookbank, a native of Upstate New York, is stationed on Long Beach Island, New Jersey, where he is assistant pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish and a licensed professional counselor and mental health counselor at St. Francis Community Center. He professed his first vows as a friar in 1995 and was ordained to the priesthood in 2008.

Editor’s note: This article is an edited version of an article published in the bulletin of St. Francis of Assisi Parish on Long Beach Island, New Jersey. Friars with questions about managing risks for stress and the coronavirus are encouraged to contact the Province’s director of health and wellness.