To Gather or Not to Gather: The Changing Nature of Socializing in a COVID-19 World
The COVID-19 global pandemic has radically altered the pace and quality of lives around the world. From the switch to digital learning, remote working, and marathon training in a mask, the "new normal" has been a lot to adjust to. One of the aspects of our lives that has changed dramatically is social gathering. Yes, this includes sports games, concerts, and festivals, but also more personal and familial events such as weddings, birthdays and graduations. These types of gatherings, in which we're used to coming together with close friends and family to celebrate life and the passing of time, have turned into triggers for anxiety and fear as well as hotspots for contamination. It begs the question, what does it mean to celebrate in a pandemic?
2020 was supposed to be beautiful year for many: extravagant proposals, big beautiful weddings, graduation parties, heart warming baby showers, sweet sixteens, just to name a few. Many people entered into this year thinking "this will be my year," but have been forced to adapt to the changing circumstances. Young brides and grooms, first generation college graduates, new parents and grandparents, and newly legal young adults are all faced with the task of feeling proud and excited about reaching these milestones while also dealing with the disappointment of having the celebrations around them not go as planned — particularly not being able to celebrate with their loved ones. In addition, many feel strange celebrating their own life while thousands of people are losing theirs to this horrendous virus.
COVID-19 has also changed our process of grieving. Not only has it caused tremendous losses but its infectious nature prevents families from commemorating those who have passed. Hospital regulations restrict family members from visiting their loved ones in the hospital, even as they near death, which leaves families with the impersonal option of virtual goodbyes, via FaceTime or Skype. Once the member passes, the family is unable to see body and are discouraged from gathering for a funeral for fear of concentrated outbreaks. Due to these losses and restrictions, grief, depression and anxiety are spiking. What makes this even more difficult is that, given this increase in mental health deterioration, individuals are starting to fill their metaphorical "grief quota" and growing desensitized. When everything feels like its crumbling around you, it's hard to find a healthy way to process your own feelings, let alone express empathy for others. We've gotten to the point where loss has almost become competitive, with a COVID-19 death ranking as the most sympathized loss. But if your child is distraught over their first break up, your grandparent passes from natural causes, or you lose a coworker to suicide — are these not also moments to grieve?
Many people have decided to postpone their gatherings and celebrations to 2021, holding virtual wedding ceremonies or memorials now with the hopes of something more fulfilling to come. However, public health officials constantly remind us that, given the uncertainty of this virus and the current lack of a virus, theres no way to know what 2021 will look like. Will we be able to gather in big groups again or are the days of big gatherings over? Will 2021 weddings, funerals, birthdays and graduations get pushed too? How will we know whats safe to do when?
Although there are no definitive answers to these questions, as of now, people have begun to pragmatically plan for the months to come. As cities and states reopen (or close again), many wonder whats safe and whats not. The Texas Medical Association recently published a COVID-19 risk chart to help guide us through:
As you assess the possible risks and begin to make plans for the near future, its imperative to remember that it is not only your personal safety at risk but also the livelihood of your friends, family, and community. We all miss gathering together but its much more likely that we are able to resume celebrations in 2021 if we are taking the necessary precautions up until then. So, for now, all we can do is take care of ourselves and others by monitoring our own health, both physical and mental, getting help when needed, and putting the greater good above our own individualistic needs. Just remember, once we beat this virus ... that will be the most rewarding celebration of all.