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‘This too shall pass:’ Working through loss of gatherings, traditions of the holiday season

Finding ways to manage and process the changes COVID-19 presents to seasonal plans
Christmas and the holiday season will be very different for many people this year thanks to restrictions in place by the pandemic. Pixabay photo

It won’t be the same, but it’s the right decision.

For Courtenay resident Elizabeth Young, pandemic restrictions mean a new Christmas reality of not seeing her parents - something many Valley residents will experience this year.

What makes it particularly difficult, however, is that Young’s father, who lives in Victoria, has just finished cancer treatments and can’t talk on the phone very well. She’s taking a step back navigating the new reality of what the holidays will look like this year, but also accepting what the change will bring.

“…It’s also a bit of a relief to not have to worry about travelling and co-ordinating visits - what if the weather gets bad and things like that? After all the stress and uncertainty this year, I’m actually looking forward to just spending a few extra days at home to rest.”

Young had the opportunity to visit her family before the provincial travel restrictions were put into place, and she’s looking forward to heading to the south Island for a visit once restrictions are lifted.

“We’ll FaceTime on Christmas so I can see my parents, my sister, brother-in-law and my niece and nephew. It won’t be the same, but it actually feels like the right decision for all of us.”

For those at some of the Valley’s care homes, the holidays this year will be focused on finding and creating joy within. Jolene Shaw, community relations manager at Berwick Comox Valley Retirement Community admitted while the year has been difficult, their team is making the best of the situation for their residents.

“We are in the company of people that have endured much in their lives, including world wars. This too shall pass.”

RELATED: Loneliness taking toll on Canadian mental health in COVID era, study finds

To make Christmas at the Berwick extra special, Shaw explained they are planning to take their residents to Hawaii - or rather - to bring Hawaii to them. They creating plane tickets and are planning a celebration on Dec. 17 alongside ‘flight attendants’ who will meet residents at the dining room and will offer them a small snack and drink once everyone has gone through ‘flight safety protocol.’ An ‘inflight’ Hawaiian meal alongside hula entertainment will follow, and Santa will join at the conclusion of the meal.

Additionally, Shaw said to enjoy the season as much as possible and to give residents a chance to get out of the facility, they have scheduled extra bus trips into the community in the evenings to enjoy Christmas lights throughout the Valley.

“These trips raise spirits and allow us to feel the joy of the season safely.”

At Glacier View Lodge, designated visitors are allowed through their COVID-19 protocols, but visits are done in a careful way, noted Liz Friis, director of resident lifestyle and community programs. “Some visitors can’t come in, so we have lots of options such as a microphone space, a window and we can do FaceTime or the phone.”

She explained this year, staff are focused on honouring favourite holiday traditions and created an ‘advent of activities’ where residents do various things each day to Christmas such as sing carols, making cards and enjoy hot chocolate and stories.

While activities in past years such as choir and musical performances can’t happen in the same way, staff are finding ways to make events work. Various groups are set to sing outside the lodge while staying socially distant and keeping to their respective bubbles.

Alastair Hunting, a pastor at St. John the Divine Anglican Church in Courtenay is hoping to offer a space for everyone, regardless of background or faith, for people to acknowledge the tough year, to honour loved ones lost and to publicly grieve.

“We know this year has been hard in general … we want to offer support and it’s important in a small way to acknowledge this and that it is a tough time, and that’s okay.”

The church is holding a Virtual Blue Christmas Service event on Dec. 21(visit for more details), which is for those who are grieving or struggling emotionally during the holiday. Hunting said anyone can attend the service and hopes it can provide comfort and give a voice to those who are struggling.

The new reality restricting gathering and travel combined with the usual stress of the holidays is making the loss of traditional celebrations “really tangible and undeniable” explained Caroline Bradfield, a registered clinical counsellor with Comox Valley Counselling.

She said the reduced connections to other people along with the lack of traditional rituals and ceremonies this year is adding to a growing sense of overall loss. It’s an emotion our culture has a tendency to move past quickly without spending time processing.

“We have a way of dismissing our own pain and losses; we minimize and ignore it. When we think about humans coping and our stress, humans cope in a couple of different ways. We either over-react and make ourselves too busy or we under-react and isolate and check-out.”

She said humans love to problem solve, and while it is an amazing characteristic, it can also lead to trouble as not all problems are solvable, such as some grief, loss or change.

Sometimes the best way to work through the emotion is to find “someone there in our corner” who will truly listen, validate feelings and empathize.

“If we can listen, and be there with them and not try to fix the losses is a huge part of healing for healing in solidarity. Understanding validates feelings, and it makes us not feel so alone. Loneliness is so crushing; it puts us in a place of helplessness and hopelessness and humans don’t do well in that realm. Just to have someone there to turn to is really helpful.”

Looking for places to turn for help? Call the BC Mental Health Support Line (no area code needed): 310-6789; it’s free and available 24 hours a day. The Suicide Hotline is available if you are in distress or worried about someone else; it is free and available 24 hours a day: 1-800-784-2433.

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Erin Haluschak

About the Author: Erin Haluschak

Erin Haluschak is a journalist with the Comox Valley Record since 2008. She is also the editor of Trio Magazine...
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