November 27, 2020

Staying connected when you can’t be together

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This year calls for some creativity around the holidays. Some suggestions on sharing love, from a distance.

As we approach the final stretch of a year like no other, many of us are struggling to come to terms with the fact that our holidays will be affected by the pandemic. Whether you are taking the advice of public health experts to avoid travel; skipping a longstanding party tradition with neighbors; or refraining from visiting loved ones at high risk of serious illness, the holidays this year will be a challenge. But with thoughtfulness and a little planning, we can make it memorable and filled with gratitude.

“Although most of us will have physical distance between us, there are ways we can still stay connected to those we care about,” explains Jim Kendall, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and manager for Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Employee Assistance Program. Kendall and his colleague and clinical counselor Ellen Clark, LCSW, share some ideas for how to celebrate the holidays this year, from afar.

Develop a plan for a virtual pandemic holiday gathering.

  • FaceTime, Zoom, Skype and Teams are all online platforms that allow you talk and see each other during your long-distance conversation, wherever you are. Teenagers are a good resource for help with technology; most are using it every day for school. Remember to do a practice run ahead of time to be sure you have the kinks worked out and everyone participating knows how to use these tools.
  • Share family recipes for each household to make and have a meal together, virtually.
  • Involve children in creating table decorations that can be mailed to loved ones.
  • Consider sharing a short program including such things as a family prayer, topics of discussion (stay away from sensitive topics like politics or money), or reflections of gratitude from each person.

Other ideas for staying connected, safely:

  • Be neighborly. If you know someone who is isolated because they are at high risk of having severe illness due to COVID-19, take them a meal. Be sure to say hello from a safe distance when delivering it to their porch or driveway.
  • Stream a concert, movie, sports event, parade or religious service to watch simultaneously with others. Host a group call afterwards to discuss.
  • Attend a socially distanced outdoor event, such as a holiday lights tour.
  • Play an online game with family or friends. Get a little friendly competition going by playing with two or a group, from wherever they are.
  • Offer help to someone who may not be able to get out for groceries via an online platform such as NextDoor.com or a neighborhood Facebook group.
  • Host a virtual talent night for children on your favorite online platform.
  • Create an inspirational sign and hang it in your window.
  • Call those you care about regularly throughout the holiday season. It sounds simple, but that act alone is a great way to stay connected and keep each other’s spirits lifted.

Clark added, “Acknowledge that things will be different this year. There will be losses but also, opportunities. It is good to re-evaluate how we do the holidays from time to time, to see what works or what is best to let go of. The pandemic forces us to do that this year. Focus on meaning and purpose, connecting to loved ones in new ways, and making care of ourselves a priority. This has been a tough year for all.”

Stacey Kendrick, MS, is a health educator with more than 20 years of experience in wellness and population health. She is a mother to two adult daughters. In her free time, she teaches healthy cooking classes, runs, gardens and enjoys backyard bonfires.

Father sits with young girl having a conversation.

Staying safe is essential. So is your child’s care.

Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt is taking a careful approach to help keep your child and family safe, along with team members. Safety actions follow recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other trusted experts.

COVID-19 is not the only threat to your child’s health and well-being. Many illnesses and conditions can cause serious problems. Good preventive care and early treatment can save lives. Please don’t delay important healthcare for your child — including all-important immunizations.

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