By Glenn Ellis
As if losing the ability to gather for each of our traditional forms and places of worship, as well as mourning and burying our dead according to our customs wasn’t all we thought we could bear, COVID-19 continues to take its toll in unexpected ways. For most, Thanksgiving was the first time that we had to make a decision to forgo the annual holiday trip or skip the family gathering and Christmas may be the same. No seeing the joyful faces of families and friends, as we have all come to expect and enjoy.
For some of us, this is the time to make amends for yearlong petty disputes; for others it’s a season to introduce new babies or significant others to the family; and then there are those for whom it is the therapeutic intervention we need to return us to our “roots”, and be infused with the familial and ancestral spirit that enables us to cope with the challenges of our daily lives.
It’s time for us to start to pay attention to the emotional and mental toll that the pandemic is causing in all of our lives; and whether we like it or not, we’re going to have to cope not just with our own emotions, but our family’s emotions, too.
Let me acknowledge that I am under no illusion that everyone doesn’t share this degree of caution or concern. We’ve seen a wide range of reactions to the pandemic, from those who take it very seriously to those who treat it like it’s not such a big deal. We have seen every day for the past six or seven months, that there are millions of people in this country who could care less about allowing this virus to interfere with their lives, especially during this holiday season.
Even though the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened over two million people at airports over a 48-hour period ahead of Thanksgiving, I’d like to believe that most of us are like me, being cautious and following all of the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention’s (CDC) guidelines for preventive measures … like not traveling for the holidays. However, like me, many of you also have family and friends who are dismissive of the danger; and if so, you need to deal with the conflict if you have decided to skip the festivities.
If your family and friends don’t think like you about the threat that this virus brings, then they absolutely won’t understand your decision not to celebrate your holiday season in a totally distant, but safe way.
A couple of facts pointed out in research from the Kaiser Family Foundation makes clear why this concern is of particular importance for Black folks. We are “at an increased risk for serious illness if they contract COVID-19 due to higher rates of underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, asthma, hypertension, and obesity compared to whites; more likely to work in the service industries such as restaurants, retail, and hospitality that are particularly at risk for loss of income during the pandemic; more likely to live in housing situations, such as multigenerational families or low-income and public housing that make it difficult to social distance or self-isolate; and often working in jobs that are not amenable to teleworking and use public transportation that puts them at risk for exposure to COVID-19.”
I don’t know about you, but every Black person I know either fits this profile or have a friend or relative who is a part of their normal holiday celebrations that they would contact if things go on as they have in holidays past. If you’ve made a decision to do things differently this year, remember that these people won’t understand, and you could find yourself in the throes of some deep resentment. Are you ready for that from the people you love and care about the most? How are you planning to approach these conversations? You might want to put some thought into it so that you will be prepared for the inevitable. The last thing any of us want is to cause damage in our most meaningful relationships.
Always remember your responsibility to your friends and family, always make the goal to set a boundary and stick up for yourself and your family. Of course, food is a meaningful part of our cultural and history for our holiday experiences. If you live in close proximity to your family, consider a socially-distanced food exchange. So if you are not comfortable going to a family member’s house for a long sit-down meal, you can cook various dishes and drop them off.
It’s okay to admit that you’re sad and disappointed and that you’ll miss these events. But, it’s entirely possible to still turn the holidays into a positive experience with alternative plans, even if they’re not the plans you’d hoped for.
When you’re thinking about holiday rituals and adapting to new or different circumstances, ask yourself, again, if it’s something meaningful to you or something that feels like an obligation.
If it’s meaningful, think about how you can do the things to be safe, so that you can still recreate the experiences in the holidays to come.
Glenn Ellis, MPH is a Visiting Scholar at The National Bioethics Center at Tuskegee University and a Harvard Medical School Fellow in Research Bioethics and Writing. Ellis is an active media contributor on Health Equity and Medical Ethics. For more visit: www.glennellis.com