Stress Rx: Coping for the holidays

Dr. Sarah Coleman

Happy Holidays? Maybe? What is that going to look like in your household? 

Here I start by pleading with all of you to look at your holiday plans and ask that you work to keep yourself and your family members safe. We are all feeling fatigued. We all want to see our loved ones and gather together to celebrate. We all want things to be normal again. We all want to forget that we are still in the midst of a pandemic with rising cases. But the reality is this; COVID still exists. It is still spreading in the community. Gathering with people outside your household, or “bubble,” is still not safe.

Please believe me when I tell you, doctors are not inflating the numbers for extra cash. We are part of your community. We are suffering as well, with in-home learning, child care responsibilities and the loss of so many social interactions. I know businesses are suffering as a result of this health crisis. We understand, but we still beg you to make safe choices. 

I have to be honest, it’s getting really disheartening to sit down and say, “sorry” once again, trying to soften the blow before taking something else away. I’ve had to say it many times to my children, but now I also had to say it (over the phone) to my parents. It’s just not safe to visit and gather together with my family this year. Deciding to limit holiday celebrations was an easy decision from a public health standpoint, but so very hard as a daughter and mother.

I was raised Catholic and am one of many in a large extended family. We’ve been celebrating the “Coleman Christmas” for as long as I remember with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. The photos over the years started with us as kids sitting on a staircase, lined up by age, gradually expanding to include our own children and grandchildren. Every year, Santa would come and hand out presents. I loved it as a kid, and when I had my own, it was sweet and adorable when they were babies and toddlers, and made me laugh the year the kids were suddenly taller than Santa, as he looked genuinely concerned when they moved to sit on his lap.

My children have never known a holiday season without this tradition. It’s a chance to see family that is spread across the state, and jockey for position once again in our group photos, still lining up by age. We’re just older and grayer, and those of us who are the youngest are less happy about sitting on the floor, given how hard it is to get back up again. 

We’re not holding the “Coleman Christmas” this year. My husband and I are not going home to have the “quieter” family Christmas the night before with my parents, siblings, and many nieces and nephews. It’s just not worth the risk to my parents and relatives’ health. I broke the news to my children, and it was one more thing this pandemic has taken. The fact it came as no surprise to them was yet another sad point. They’ve taken the alteration of their daily lives in stride, but at the same time, I wish I could magically make things different for them.

My youngest has had difficulty coming up with presents to put on his Christmas list. One thing he did ask for was a large enough dog bed so that he and his dog, Lily, could hang out on it together. He told me, “Lily is really the only friend I talk to now.” Oof. The worst part was how matter-of-fact he was about it. And my offer to try to set up Zoom meetings with his friends was met with a shrug. 

So what are the holidays going to look like this year? 

I’m already planning to put up the decorations and the lights as soon as I can. I want the holiday season to start right away, because if our celebrations are limited to our own house, I want to really make the most of it.

I want to come home from a shift in the ER to Christmas lights twinkling and Christmas carols playing. That much I can make feel normal, even as I sanitize and shower immediately post shift before settling down to enjoy my home. And in years past, we usually took down the Christmas decorations soon after Christmas day, often because we were going out of town. With nowhere to go, we may leave them up longer.

We have an Advent calendar, and every year I try to get the kids to fill the daily slots by writing down activities to do every day to encourage family time during the season. This year is going to be a bit more limited with fewer public activities available. But at least my oldest, who has a habit of writing “take a nap” and “watch TV” as the activities that bring him joy will be pleased. My youngest, who enjoys baking, will still be able to make Christmas cookies and use an immense amount of sprinkles. I’m going to have to find a safe, socially distant way to deliver them to family and friends, or risk packing on even more quarantine pounds. 

I can once again revisit my time in grade school by cutting out lopsided snowflakes to hang on the front window. And eye my husband’s much more artistic creations. Christmas celebrations will be smaller and quieter, but we can still make them fun.

This holiday season will be different. It needs to be different to keep everyone healthy. I have hope that if we make the necessary sacrifices now, we can look to 2021 and plan elaborate over- the-top holiday celebrations.

Sarah Coleman is Medical Director of PeaceHealth Cottage Grove Community Medical Center.



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