By Jennifer Becker, MS, LCMHCS, Awakenings, Greensboro Assistant Clinical Manager
It is only Monday, but I am dreading this week.
Actually, I have been dreading this week since March 15.
Once the news that Covid-19 hit the east coast and we were going to be stuck at home, I knew our family would be hit hard. Luckily, we have been spared the effects of the virus, thus far, and hopefully we will continue to stay healthy. However, we have not been spared the effects of physical distancing.
My parents live 5 miles from my house, and we usually see each other weekly, but haven’t had physical contact since the last week in February. My ex-husband and I have joint custody of our teenage sons and the second week in March decided that the boys needed to decide where they wanted to stay for the duration of the virus. My ex-husband is a pharmacist and we were realistic about the impact this would have once the virus traveled to North Carolina. Our 15 year- old son decided to stay with me, while our 18 year- old decided to stay with him. It’s been a month since I have hugged my son. While all of these necessary precautions are difficult, it was this week, in particular, that has made me feeling anxious and sad.
This week is special and holy for many of us who observe either Passover or Easter. My family celebrates Passover. The first two nights of Passover are where our family comes together to tell the story of the how Moses led the Jewish people out of Egypt, called the Seder. It is like other people’s Thanksgiving, but with an order, specific foods, prayers, story- telling, and lots and lots of laughter. Year after year, it is tradition for my family to come together and for my father to “lead the Seder.” He sits at the head of the table, and he is flanked on either side of him are the youngest members of the family, his grandchildren. Around the table are family members, close friends of the family, guests, and those who have never attended a Seder. It is also tradition to complain about how it is too much work and we should really scale back. My sister complains that there are too many people and we need to stop inviting strangers. My mother complains that my father makes the Seder last too long and that we should just get to the meal. I complain that my mother doesn’t need to host it at her house, and she should just let me do it at my house next year. Then, we do it all over again the next night. The tradition runs even deeper because it is also the holiday that we always came home for during college, it was where my sister and I had our husbands vetted by our parents, and it is never missed by any of us for any reason. Last year, my brother-in-law was out of work and had a job interview the Friday after the second Seder. He drove down with his family from DC, and he flew out after the first Seder. He said, “He couldn’t miss Passover.” He isn’t even Jewish! It is that important for our family to be together that we find ways to make it happen.
The first question we ask during the Seder is “Why is this night different than all other nights of the year?” There is a very traditional way to answer that question that has to do with the Jewish people leaving hastily from Egypt. However, this year I would say this year, this night is different because while we are committed to physical distancing ourselves, we will not commit to giving up on the things that make us feel whole as a people.
Each of us desperately needs connection, more than ever, and the one holiday that brings us all together is the one we need right now. While I am struggling to accept that I can’t be with my family, I am fully committed to making sure I celebrate Passover to the best of my ability. I know I need the connection, more now than ever. I am learning how to create a space for the holiday when all of my customs and rituals have to be abandoned.
Here are my initial ways to cope with these changes:
- Grieve: I am grieving the loss of my holiday, my traditions, and the visit with my family. I am allowing myself to be sad about the fact that I don’t get to be with my family. I have cried about it and shared my thoughts and feelings with my family to let them know that being apart hurts.
- Finding new ways to do old things: As a family, we are working on ways to practice our holiday. The Jewish community is resilient and doesn’t let something like a virus keep us from practicing our religion. (We’ve been through tougher times.) I am allowing myself to be open to new ideas and suggestions that aren’t necessarily traditional, but provide me with the opportunity to celebrate the holiday.
- Walking down memory lane: I am comforted in knowing that this is just one year, one holiday, and one disappointment. I can feel gratitude for all of the years that we have had and hold on to the memories from the past.
I am already planning for next year. I already told my mother that I think I should host it in my house. I told her and my sister that I think it should be small and intimate with just the 11 of us. However, by the time Passover rolls around it will be bigger than we wanted, mom will have convinced us to have the first Seder in her house, dad will be long winded, and we will be exhausted from all of the cooking. It will be absolutely perfect.