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Family Gatherings, Holidays and More: Tips on Celebrating Missed Milestones during COVID-19

Social distancing is so important to prevent the spread of COVID-19.  As a result, it is important to cancel gatherings and parties for important occasions and events. It can be hard to deal with the emotional response when you cancel these events as they are often related to some of life’s most exciting milestones.    

Here are some of our ideas and recommendations on how to celebrate these events without exposing yourself, or your loved ones, to infection.


Family Gatherings

It is hard being unable to visit the homes of your family members or to have dinner together. Family dinners might also be a weekly tradition or something you look forward to on special trips. While social distancing is keeping us home, you can creatively recreate family dinners (even if you aren’t all in the same house or state!) with the help of technology and the power of your senses. 

The most important thing to do is schedule a time for your virtual family dinner that works for your family members. The next step is a little tricky, because to recreate the atmosphere of eating together, you want to identify a meal that everyone is able to make a variation of in their own homes. At your scheduled family dinner time, you and your family can sit down to the “same” meal while video chatting or talking to each other on the phone. You may not be able to be right next to them, but you can still catch up and feel like you are all sitting at the same table.

If time-zones or busy schedules make virtual family dinners hard to host, you can set up a regular time to check in with family members weekly. Maybe that is video chatting your sibling Wednesday nights or calling your grandparents on Saturday mornings, but it gives everyone a set time to stay connected. 


Hang Outs with Friends

Going out to eat with friends or doing an activity together may not be feasible at the moment but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some of those favorite activities together while keeping apart.  


Movies

If you love going to the movies together, you can set up a video chat on your phone or computer and talk to each other while watching the same video or TV show on streaming services. It’s not quite the same as going out to the theater, but you can microwave some popcorn and have fun talking about the characters in the movie or laughing at the same jokes. 


Gaming

Video chats can also make online gaming more fun. Some video games allow you to create online rooms to play with friends. For instance, Mario Cart 8 on the Switch lets you play with up to 12 friends online. By setting up a video chat room ahead of time, you can race your friends without being in the same room. This is feasible for games on many different consoles and on the computer. You might even find a new game that you can all play together while safely in your own homes. 


Group chats

You can set up daily check in’s with your friends or make a group chat as a way to share what is going on in your daily life and to check in and see how they are managing during social isolation. You can do themes for different group chats such as one for you and your friends to vent about what is going wrong (#bakingfail), post picture of signs of hope and optimism (#spring), or one to talk about the new hobbies you are developing or shows you are bingeing while staying inside (#Quarantineactivities)


Mail

Want to spend some time off screen? Social isolation is a great way to bring back the art of pen pals! If you have stamps and envelopes at home, take the time to write messages to your friends and share with them what is going on in your life. Checking your mailbox and finding something from a friend can brighten up a day.  


Anniversaries  

Were you planning a nice dinner out, or perhaps hosting a party for your anniversary? Either way, your plans are likely cancelled during the current outbreak. That doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate in a meaningful and wonderful way.   

Here are some ideas to make your anniversary memorable!   

If your family and friends can’t celebrate with you in person, invite them to participate in your celebration by e-mailing or mailing you pieces of marriage advice, family recipes, or favorite memories of you as a couple. On your anniversary, take time with your partner to read through the messages over dinner or as you cuddle together on the couch.   

Cut up a piece of paper and on each slip you both write a reason why you love the other person. Fold the slips and hide them around your home. Your mood will automatically improve when you find sweet notes randomly from your partner.   

If you are up for a bit of a challenge, recreate your first date or dream date at home. It can be fun to create a perfect date atmosphere. You can set the table with a nice table cloth or improvise with a shawl or blanket, use the fancy dishes, get dressed up, build a music playlist for ambiance or put up a slide show of images on your television, figure out recipes you can make together or support a local restaurant by ordering delivery/take-out.   


Graduations 

Cancelled graduation ceremonies can be as hard on parents and guardians as it is on the students themselves. They will not have the feeling of pride when they walk across that graduation stage. You may not get the picture of your student walking receiving their diploma, but they have completed their degree and that is worthy of celebration!  

You can host your own graduation at home where everyone dresses up and poses for pictures as a family.  

If the school mails home paper diplomas, you can make a celebration out of opening the envelope.  You can video call or have extended family on speaker phone to add to the celebratory atmosphere.  

There may not be a valedictorian speech, but your student can share their favorite memories from school and what they are looking forward to in the next stage of their life.  

If you miss the commencement speaker, there are plenty of inspiring speeches online and TED Talks can be a great place to start.  

For students, you can reflect on graduation with friends by creating a graduation hashtag for your school. Using the hashtag, you can post pictures, memories, and best wishes. If you are Photoshop savvy, you can create mash-up photos of everyone in their graduation best or you can use the materials on the hashtag to create mini graduation videos!  


Funerals   

Social distancing guidelines can make it even more difficult to host a funeral.  While postponing may be an option, some families would prefer not to delay a funeral. With modern technologies, funerals can now be live- streamed and mourners can stay at home. Technology can be leveraged to create Facebook pages or groups that allow individuals to leave condolence messages, post pictures, and comment with their favorite memories. This can keep the discussion centralized for families and not overwhelm any one person’s personal profile.   

While you can’t hug grieving friends and family members, you can still drop food off on their porch (they can open the door once you are gone) and call them to talk on the phone. Mailed cards can be another way to make people feel connected and let them know you care about them in their time of grieving.   


Birthdays  

If you can’t host a party, take the time to make a special memento with your child to mark their newest milestone. I am a fan of "Foot-erflies." They log how tiny your child is and allow them to express their creativity. The best part is making an annual tradition for your family to compare the Foot-erflies on every birthday.    

Foot-erflies  

  • Select a light-colored piece of construction paper or white paper.  
  • Put the paper on the floor.  
  • Have your child put their right foot on the left side of the paper and trace around it.  
  • Have your child put their left foot on the right side of the paper and trace around their left foot.  
  • You should see what looks like the wings of a butterfly.  
  • Have your child draw the center of the butterfly with a small head and antennae.   
  • Decorate by drawing shapes with colored pencils or crayons on the wings or cut up small pieces of paper and glue them on in a mosaic.  
  • Be sure to label it with their name and age so you can compare how their feet change in size as they grow up.     

Another way to make a birthday extra special for older kids (or the inner kid in all of us), is to have a scavenger hunt. You can make it an indoor scavenger hunt, or spread it out to the yard. The clues can be inspired by a theme, like super heroes or fairytales, or you can build them from your favorite family memories. You can make it extra special by hiding elements of their party with each clue or other small tokens.   


It’s Okay to Not Be Okay  

When events are cancelled, it is rough. When you feel like your life is getting out of your control and things you were looking forward to are being canceled, it is natural to feel grief.   

It is important to talk to trusted friends and family about what you are feeling. However, if they are also feeling overwhelmed, it can be the time to reach out to a mental health professional. It can be comforting to share what you are experiencing and feeling with those trained to help.  

 

Abby Beerman is an injury prevention coordinator at University of Vermont Medical Center and UVM Children’s Hospital.