COVID-19 and the Holidays… Having that Difficult Conversation

December 18, 2020

Devin Vicknair, PhD

Faculty, NGMC Family Medicine Residency Program

The holiday season is upon us! Typically, this is a time for family get-togethers, parties, pot-luck work lunches, and tons of merriment. Can we still celebrate during COVID-19? Yes, we can – but like everything else, it will look and feel different. It’s not uncommon for family members to view this crisis differently, too. We’re in a time when people are just craving normalcy. While some of our family members might feel it’s ok to just forgo safety precautions and get together anyway, other family members might not feel comfortable with that. So, how do you have that conversation and honor tradition at the same time? It all comes down to mutual respect. Here are a few examples:

It will not feel like the holidays if I don’t have my Mom’s casserole!

I get it! Food is the cornerstone of so many traditions! We can still honor those traditions and show people we care about their safety by dropping off our favorite dish beforehand. We can also ask people if they wouldn’t mind putting some food aside and even freezing it, so we can safely pick it up later. Keeping our distance, for now, will help ensure you can enjoy that casserole in person next year!

Some people in my family are very disciplined with COVID-19 safety guidelines, others not so much.

I learned a great way to respect people’s perspectives related to COVID-19…let’s talk traffic signals and the virus, shall we? We have red, yellow and green, right?

  1. People who are in the red group are very strict with mask-wearing, socially distance themselves, do not go out unless absolutely necessary, and are diligent hand washers.
  2. Then we have the yellow group; they get out a little more frequently and are adhering to most of the Covid safety guidelines, but not as regimented as the red group.
  3. Then we have the green group; their daily life has not changed much, they hug folks and shake hands, sometimes forget their mask and live life as they normally would.

When greens get together with greens, there is no conflict. When greens want to get together with reds, we may have a problem. What can you say?
The best thing to do is to acknowledge the weirdness of it all and have mutual respect for each other’s perspectives. The conversation might go something like this:

“Staying apart this Christmas is a temporary sacrifice for the sake of reducing exposure, so we can all enjoy each other’s company next year!”

“As weird as it may feel, let’s schedule a Zoom call before we eat the Christmas ham so we can still connect and say hello! I’ll set it up!”

As you navigate through this holiday season with family members, remember that this crisis is not going to be the solution to long term communication problems. So, if there were already relationship problems, crisis may just emphasize the problems more or people can agree to try something different. Be respectful and keep talking. We will all come together again and when we do, we still want to be friends!

What about our Grandparents?

Our elder population is in a high-risk group for contracting COVID-19. They need our support more than ever to stay both physically and mentally safe. It’s hard for family members to stay away, especially since at times we may think that each holiday will be the last one we have with them. Remember that this is temporary and being sick in the hospital with Covid and no visitors is not what anyone wants.

Take the time to stay in contact using technology that they can easily participate in (mail a letter, Facetime, Zoom, food drop off, frequent but distant visits from outside the home, a lengthy phone call), anything you can do to make sure they know you’re thinking of them.

We can still honor our traditions, and the ones we love! Always be respectful, do what you can do safely, communicate feelings of fear and stress and ask for support. We can do this!

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