To the Family Members Who Think We’re “Living in Fear”
I wrote this email to a family member, but never sent it. Hopefully it’ll help someone else in a similar position.
There are thousands of reasons to limit our in-person interactions right now. And I get that everyone has different versions of “being safe”. But, as the parents of a daughter born in April 2020, my husband and I are very clear about what our version looks like. And it doesn’t include indoor get-togethers with extended family.
We’ve politely declined more than one invitation from the same family and were met with at least some level of understanding.
And then I logged into Facebook the other day and saw a post from a member of that family. It said:
Before you cancel Thanksgiving and Christmas with your loved ones, remember that this might be the last holiday you have. We are not guaranteed a single minute on this earth. Stop living in fear and embrace life to its fullest!
I need to write things to process them, so I typed up the following response. I’ll probably never send it, but I have a feeling it describes how a lot of us feel right now. Feel free to adapt this and share it with your own family. Or, just read it and know that you’re not alone.
As the mom of an infant, I certainly haven’t had the year I was expecting. Neither have so many of my friends and coworkers who have high-risk family members or are just doing their best every day to weigh the risks and rewards of actions that didn’t require a second thought a year ago.
Eight months ago when Ayla was born, Alex and I were alone in the hospital, wearing masks every time a nurse or doctor entered the room, unable to see family or even walk out into the hallway to get water. We didn’t have a choice. Our friends were just down the hall with their newborn twins and we communicated the whole time via text instead of seeing each other’s babies. The babies that made us all first-time parents. We waited over a week to have our parents hold Ayla, first seeing them at a distance in our driveway or backward. One of my closest friends has worked on a COVID floor at a hospital in Brooklyn and seen firsthand how many people go in and never come back out.
My entire maternity leave, Passover, Fourth of July, Rosh Hashanah, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and soon my first birthday as a Mom did not look anything like what I envisioned at the start of 2020.
Am I living in fear and anxiety? Yes. Because there is so much unknown right now and Alex and I have the monumental task of keeping our infant daughter safe. Of keeping ourselves safe so we can continue caring for her. If I could go back to April, would I do anything differently? Absolutely not. Of course it is true that life is short and nothing is for certain. That is why, in every other year, we have embraced life to the fullest and we will do so again when our family has determined it’s safe to do so.
But to us, the decisions we’ve made this year are to increase the chances that we’ll all be together next year and many years into the future. Not some of us, but all of us… family, friends, neighbors, other parents who are having the same exhausting year that we are. You’re 100 percent right that we are not guaranteed a single minute on this earth. A pandemic does not put a pause on losing family members to things unrelated to COVID. It just makes it that much harder to accept and navigate. No one wants an eight person, socially distanced funeral, or to watch their loved ones dying over Facetime.
I know that you want to return back to normal. I do, too. So much. I want to take Ayla to stores and to see friends. I want to show her New York City. I want to have dinner out with Alex. And I want to introduce her to our family’s holiday traditions so badly that it hurts. But for now, I have to tell myself that the decisions we make this year are a small price to pay for getting those things back in the future. And even if it’s determined one day many years from now that limiting our contact and wearing masks this year didn’t make much of a difference — as extremely unlikely as that is — I will still have zero regrets. Because I have chosen my actions in this weird, exhausting year based on the scientific information available to me and to all of us… carefully evaluating the risks and rewards of every action, every day. And I also know, being married to someone who works in science, that the information available to us changes regularly as it has throughout history the more we study and learn.
I don’t think anyone would look back at the first 31 (almost 32) years of my life and say “she lived in fear”. So I hope that my perspective on this one outlier of a year speak volumes in contrast.
No one should have to live in fear. Or lose their job or have their business suffer. No one should be kept from enjoying time with family members and friends and doing the things that give them the most value in life. No one should have to grapple with a family member who died too soon for any reason. But here we are, being asked to adapt temporarily so we’ll reach a day as soon as possible when we’ll be more excited than we’ve ever been to celebrate and hug and talk and do all the things we might have taken for granted before. That is my only goal right now: to have the end of this be as happy as I’ve envisioned it being for the past eight months and counting — with everyone there to experience that joy.