This holiday season, we all have a choice: act like this is a normal year and hope for the best, or lean into what’s safest and stay home. Keep it small and to the members of your household. It is only one year out of, hopefully, many to come.
My 13-year-old, Anna, was full of so much light, energy and ambition. In July, Anna had just started back to summer camp dance in a small class of about six kids, all wearing masks. It was a small price to pay to be doing what she loved.
But two days after participating in class, Anna started to complain that she was feeling tired, which wasn’t unusual because of her ongoing fight with scleroderma, an autoimmune disease. She thought her fatigue was just because she was getting back into dancing and her muscles were being overworked a bit. So, we kept her home to rest and for two days she played video games, ate, and rested. We couldn’t have been more wrong about the cause of fatigue. What happened next was nothing short of shocking and life altering.
That Friday morning, she ate and then napped. When she woke up, we could tell something was very wrong and I took her to the hospital. As we waited and prayed, our precious girl passed away. Every piece of that day is seared into my memory, on constant repeat. It wasn’t until after she died that we found out she’d tested positive for COVID-19.
This is now our year of dreaded “firsts.” We had to celebrate her birthday without her, our first Thanksgiving without her, and now, we’re facing our first Christmas without her. The rest of our lives will be without her.
We have been told by many that young people don’t have to worry so much about COVID-19, but that’s far from the truth. Anna was young and full of life, and about to enter such an exciting stage in life. But that’s not reality anymore. I’ll never get to see her in her first major play, or cheer her on as she pursued her dreams of becoming an actress. I won’t get to comfort her through her first heartbreak or well up with pride as she graduates high school. For me, my girl will forever be thirteen.
It could be any one of us, living life as usual when COVID crashes into your life like a high-speed freight train. I promise you, the sadness you’ll feel from missing out on holiday festivities, is nothing compared to the hole that a loved one’s death leaves in your life. The grief is so big that sometimes, it feels like I can hardly breathe.
I’m begging anyone who reads this to think twice. Please take more precautions even if it means you must skip in person family traditions over the holidays, so that your family survives until next year and many years after that. Sure, you might be fine but maybe your loved one won’t be. The chance of exposure is real, and higher than many of us want to admit. Think of your loved ones.
Remember that this disease can impact anyone, at any age, even in perfect health. Remember that you could be spreading the virus, even if you’re asymptomatic. Let’s face it — none of us are perfect. It’s inevitable that you’ll be exposed to more germs than you think — whether it’s mindlessly touching a gas station counter and then touching your face, someone’s unexpected sneeze when your mask is off, or dinner with someone who may be asymptomatic. At this point, it’s not if you’ll know someone taken by COVID, but when, because it will happen, I promise you. What lies on the other side of COVID-19 is nothing but pure heartbreak.
Please be careful this year. Missing holiday celebrations and family is hard, but burying your child means saying goodbye to those traditions and having an empty chair at your dinner table forever.