Many are being forced to forego holiday celebrations to ensure their own health or the health and safety of their loved ones. They are adapting traditions and trying to find other ways to connect with people they love.
Joanne and Kevin Moon had planned to travel west for the holidays to visit their adult sons, who live in Texas and Arkansas.
“My husband and I thought that we had it all worked out, and that we could [travel in] the perfect little bubble,” she said. “And then Owen and Gabriel both said to me, ‘What are you thinking? This is really a bad idea. What if you get sick?’”
Joanne, 61, of Langhorne, Bucks County, has asthma and is currently in remission after undergoing cancer treatment 16 months ago. She has to be careful and limit her risks of exposure to the novel coronavirus.
As the novel coronavirus surges across Pennsylvania, many are being forced to forego holiday celebrations to ensure their own health or the health and safety of their loved ones.
For people who are elderly or have underlying medical conditions, exposure to the novel coronavirus carries far greater risk; it can cause illness severe enough to lead to hospitalization, intensive care, intubation, or even death.
Kevin Moon felt torn but ultimately decided to make the trip to spend Christmas with their two sons, leaving Joanne in solitude in their Bucks County home
“It was important to me that my husband could be there with my sons,” Joanne said. “I’d rather be alone myself than have them be alone for Christmas.”
Joanne plans to join her family virtually over Zoom, but she struggles with the thought of being by herself. She said, “I’m almost grieving not being able to be with my family. We’ve never been apart for a holiday. It’s always been a very special time.”
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Ari Halbkram is self-isolating in his home in Warminster, Bucks County, through the holidays so that he can continue to support his aging parents, who each have pre-existing medical conditions.
“I am taking it very seriously,” said 37-year-old Halbkram. “I’m an only child, and because I’m the primary care person for my mom, I am really trying to limit my exposure to other people.”
Halbkram’s mother, 69, has diabetes and is a cancer survivor. She is quarantining alone in her home in Trenton, New Jersey.
Halbkram’s 69-year-old father has late stage Parkinson’s disease and lives in an assisted living facility in Trenton. “It’s definitely a challenge during the holidays because I can’t see my dad, and because of his health he’s not really available for phone calls or FaceTime. I can’t see him, I can’t talk to him, and I can’t be around him,” Halbkram said. “Buying a gift for someone when you have no idea when you’re ever going to see them again is just a really strange thing.”
During the holidays, Halbkram said, his own feelings of solitude and loneliness are magnified.
“On social media, everything you’re seeing is people spending time together,” said Halbkram, who lives alone. “You’re seeing people have some sort of semblance of a holiday with togetherness, whereas I’m at home having this holiday by myself.”
Halbkram has been spending time writing and taking pictures, buying more presents for others than ever before, and recreating some of his family’s Hanukkah traditions on his own. “I’m cooking food, practicing observances, and trying to use FaceTime to stay connected [with family] so it doesn’t feel like we’re all totally alone during the holiday,” he said.
Having some sort of celebration “even when it’s really quiet, boring, and solitary” helps Halbkram feel a certain type of normalcy during an abnormal time.
In Gibsonia, just north of Pittsburgh in Allegheny County, Yvonne Yaksic has spent the vast majority of the past 10 months secluded and alone.
Yaksic, 66, is undergoing chemotherapies for multiple myeloma, a rare form of bone cancer, which places her at elevated risk if she were to contract COVID-19. “If I don’t respect COVID right now, then I’ll suffer and die. And for what?” she said. “You have to have some willpower.”
When Yaksic speaks to her six grandkids over FaceTime, she tries to teach them about resilience. Often, though, she wonders if she can endure for another day.
“I hope my cancer stays stable before this is all over,” she said, “or am I doing this for nothing?”
For the past 14 years, Yaksic has led a support group for people with multiple myeloma in the Pittsburgh area. She continues to lead virtual meetings once a month, and speaks to fellow patients on the phone each week about treatment options, support, and care. She says the ability to support others has helped her to find purpose during a trying time. “Because I’m a long-term survivor, I offer them hope, and in some ways that offers me hope, too,” Yaksic said.
She leans on her friends, as well, many of whom are also living in isolation. “We help support each other through it,” Yaksic said. “We laugh, do FaceTimes, have a glass of wine, and talk about when we’ll get together again.”
This Christmas, Yaksic is hoping to briefly catch a glimpse of her daughter and six granddaughters for a socially-distanced outdoor hot chocolate and dessert, but she’s not sure.
“I just want to hug them,” she said. “Not being able to hug your family and have that physical contact, it really does affect you.”
The threat of the coronavirus is never lost on Yaksic, though. She recently lost an extended family member to COVID-19.
“Is isolation worth it?” she mused. “Well, if you want to live.”