Home for the holidays during COVID-19

Posted by Reeve Staff in Life After Paralysis on November 23, 2020 # COVID-19

This Thanksgiving, Stephanie Woodward’s kitchen will be quiet. Instead of hosting her annual feast for a dozen family members, Woodward will celebrate with only her husband Ryan and beloved dog Rocky for company.mask around fall leaves

The latest wave of coronavirus cases sweeping through communities across the country has upended holiday plans for millions of people, including those, like Ms. Woodward, who live with disabilities and face higher risks if infected. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urgently recommended that all citizens remain home for Thanksgiving and celebrate only with those in their immediate household.

Woodward and her husband, who both have spina bifida, made the decision to cancel the party after weighing the risks and watching the death toll continue to rise; more than 250,000 Americans have so far died from the coronavirus.

“It’s really difficult, but not gathering could be the one thing that saves a lot of lives,” she says. “It might sound ridiculous, but the fact is, Covid is killing people. We could truly save lives by just staying home.”

While Woodward and her family won’t be face-to-face, they’re getting creative to stay connected. Instead of cooking together, she and her sister will each prepare part of the meal— “I'll be doing the yams and turkey, she’s in charge of mashed potatoes, greens and a side”– and swap dishes in a socially distanced and safe way.

The entire family will then gather around a virtual table later in the day, taking advantage of Zoom lifting its 40-minute cap on calls on Thanksgiving to allow families and friends unlimited time to celebrate the holiday safely.

"Even if it’s virtual, it will lift spirits,” Woodward says.

Staying emotionally connected and physically active during a different sort of holiday season is critical according to Karyn Baig, a clinical specialist at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation.

Whether participating in a YouTube chair yoga class or riding an indoor handcycle, regular exercise will help people feel more themselves and maintain recovery and rehabilitation progress, Baig says. Meditation can help manage anxiety about exposure and increased isolation, while outdoor walks with caregivers and socially distanced family and friends will provide fresh air and time for conversation.

“During the holidays, we can all focus on gratitude, and making time to express that to each other,” she says. “The challenge is trying to find the bright side in all of this, trying to find purpose while remembering there is a light at end of tunnel. The most important thing is that people don’t get lax and fatigued, and that we all just keep pushing forward.”

For her part, Woodward has begun plotting the hacks that will ensure happy holidays despite challenging circumstances.

A cherished annual Hallmark movie marathon — “the cheesier the better!”– with friends will now take place virtually on shared screens, with care packages of cookies delivered to each friend’s home ahead of time. Woodward is also revamping her Christmas decorating philosophy to ward off pandemic blues.

Instead of putting everything up the day after Thanksgiving in a blitz of instant gratification, this year, she and Ryan are planning to slow the pace and savor every small moment.

“We’re trying to elongate the season,” she says. “We’ll do the stockings one day, the mantle another and just try to make the holidays feel more special during a time where I know we’re going to be a little more alone.”

This project was supported, in part, by grant number 90PRRC0002, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official Administration for Community Living policy.