By Karen Whiting, Crosswalk.com
Editor's note: We realize not all parts of the country or world are experiencing a post-COVID atmosphere or high vaccination rates. As always, please continue to be cautious and loving to your neighbors as is necessary. These can be events enjoyed in the future.
Six-year-old Elisha responded to what she wanted for her birthday with, "Aunt Sandy, what I really want is for you to visit so I can hug you."
Yes, desires for touch and in-person visits trumps even a child's gift list after the isolation of covid. Sandy quickly made plans to visit for Thanksgiving for a reunion with her brother's family. People of all ages have considered their priorities and want to reconnect. Their priorities have shifted, and they appreciate friends and loved ones more.
1. Reconnecting with Family
Realizing a child we missed seeing grow quite a few inches gained new skills reminds us of the lost time. We may have spoken online and on the phone, but we still missed much without in-person connections. Hugs became a precious commodity, so we hug tighter and longer and give more hugs when we do get together.
There's nothing quite like looking at someone and noticing changes. But that means more than hugs. We regain more when we look intently, enjoy smiles again, capture new memories with photos, and engage in new activities for post-covid fun.
All five of my children visited for my birthday, along with several of the grandchildren. Our new activity was just across the street at a park where the Scrub Jaybirds land on our heads.
2. Appreciating Loved One with Reunions
A generation or two ago, people held more reunions, but that waned as people moved further apart, got busier, and felt they had more options to stay in touch. Since covid, some people have promised themselves and others to stay in touch and meet up more often.
Christmas reunions are part of many family plans. That includes renting houses to gather in, planning activities to engage in, outdoor fun, and sharing favorite family foods. Games can consist of escape rooms, board games, and even devices connected to the computer to play in groups. When planning reunions, include plans for meals to fill the time and split expenses. Decide whether being together is all the gifts you need or if you want to exchange gifts (or simply bless your children with gifts). Mainly, focus on the joy of reuniting.
3. Grieving Lost Loved Ones
Social media became the place where sorrow spilled out, and people shared their stories and sadness. The loss of end-of-life services and funeral side hugs of comfort prolonged the grief process. Holding delayed services helps people share that grief and receive comfort from family and friends. These people still need more hugs and listening ears to share their memories and receive comfort and compassion.
Celebrations of life, which help people cope with loss, were delayed during quarantine. These finally started taking place and will continue. Elisa started calling her friend Sandy in February as her husband suffered a terminal illness. Their husbands had been lifelong friends, and she needed a listening ear from someone who understood. Sometimes she called five or more times a day. Sandy visited once quarantine ended and helped Elisa as she sorted her husband's things.
4. Celebrating Loved Ones Lost
Some people chose to cope with grief by taking action. They initiated gatherings at church to share stories with others grieving, donated for memorials, volunteered at their loved one's favorite charity, and created albums with photos and stories of their lost loved one.
Doing something positive can help people cope and celebrate the person. Nothing makes up for not being at their bedside, holding their hand one last time, or being able to comfort them, but choosing to connect with people or a professional counselor remains one of the best ways to cope.
For friends who lost jobs, celebrate as they finally find new ones. For those discouraged or depressed, encourage them to volunteer where they help others. That gets their minds off their own problems and brings joy as they see how they can impact lives.
5. Connecting with Children Meeting the Post-Covid World
Newborn babies sheltered inside need to be introduced to family members. Little ones born in the past year have only known a world of masks and shutdowns. The bonding with grandparents may take longer, and re-bonding for preschoolers may also take time. Parental fear may hold people back from letting children socialize outside of online calls and phone calls. Babies are not likely to have covid or transmit it, but parents may still transmit the virus to the grandparents.
Social skills may lag, especially in homes with only one baby. Find another family with a newborn and commit to play dates rather than joining larger groups. Socialization is essential for young children to learn to communicate, share, learn social behavior skills, and develop compassion.
6. Rebuilding Co-Worker Relationships
Sixty-two percent of employees worked from home during the pandemic. Many individuals may need to reconnect. You probably held countless zoom meetings but missed the social aspects of seeing co-workers and chatting with them.
Workers have mixed feelings about where to work after COVID. Some got burnout with pandemic fatigue trying to work from home, missed the synergy of the workplace that inspired ideas and productivity, or felt cramped without real office space at home. Other workers loved being home because they became more productive and saved money and frustration by not commuting. Some need social interaction, even if it's just weekly meetings or social meetups.
7. Reconnecting with Positive Emotions
Covid increased gratitude for being with people and compassion for medical workers and teachers. Everyone has become more tech-savvy in order to connect with family online. People started reading more, cooking more, and eating meals at home more. That fostered better nuclear family relationships but gave a desire to reconnect with peers and friends. We struggled with priorities and negative emotions, so now we need to rebuild our positive emotions and attitudes.
Churches moved outside the building with streaming and posting online that increased memberships in many cases. People returned to Bible reading and prayer as they faced more death and illness that caused them to face loss and their own mortality. We began to put people before money and consider priorities. Changing priorities inspired more compassion and thankful attitudes. Be sure to express gratitude and joy of seeing friends again. Listen and share how you have been coping. Be willing to cry together and hug over lost time, opportunities, and other struggles.
8. Helping Those with Serious Emotional Needs
Mental health issues and stress levels have been rising during the pandemic. It has called for more awareness and compassion for loved ones hurting. The loss of jobs, isolation, and restrictions overwhelmed millions. Depression and anxiety have increased dramatically over the past year. Some worked on decreasing their own stress levels, while others sought professional help or a trusted listener.
In reconnecting with friends and loved ones, listen well. Look at the person, use encouraging and empathetic words, and be generous with hugs. Note if anyone seems depressed or stressed. Encourage those who are not doing well mentally to seek professional help. Be compassionate and understand that coping with the pandemic has been harder for some than others. Send cards as reminders that you care and are available to listen.
9. Reconnecting with the World through Travel
Travel is slowly increasing as people make plans for getaways to help reconnect with their past lifestyle and restore a sense of normalcy. My family has plans for a getaway Christmas reunion and traveling to Europe next summer. We've been closed off from our communities and the world. The first will keep us close and yet allow us to gather. The other will be much more open. Taking things slowly and in stages can be a more comforting plan.
If traveling, check out restrictions and rules for where you will go and stay. Consider what to pack to stay safe. Smile and rejoice when you meet people where you visit. If you are able, be generous in tipping as people in tourist industries lost income. Post photos and share experiences for friends not yet ready to travel.
10. Repeating History with Caution
The roaring twenties followed the pandemic of 1918, and some sociologists wonder if a similar party atmosphere will occur. For centuries, plaques gave way to relief that showed up with glee. Staying home for many also meant saving money, and that may be used for socializing.
The first signs of that have been with the crowding of beaches and return to full capacity at amusement parks. Individuals need to balance the exuberance and freedom of getting out with precautions to stay safe and keep others safe.
The long-term relief may be a year or two away as medical personnel and scientists study new variants and watch what happens with vaccines and herd immunity. The flu of 1918 came in two waves, and those passed in weeks, whereas we've been under a cloud much longer.
The roaring twenties ended with the Great depression. So, be careful with spending and continue to save. Be cautious with decisions, and instead of careless frivolity, be grateful for life.
11. Re-evaluating Life Choices
The shutdown also gave people time to evaluate their lives and access their choices. Some made career changes or even moved to a new location to see a different part of the country or be closer to the family as those connections became more important.
People have been reconnecting to their dreams and life goals. Part of that came with uprooting previous lifestyles, while other decisions came from time alone to reflect on what they want for their future. A Pew Research poll of June 2021 revealed that 22% of American adults had moved or knew someone who had moved. This included people who needed more space with being home more while others realized that they had the freedom to move further away from their offices without the need to commute daily.
12. Church and Post-Covid Recovery
Being away for a while may mean you missed news of people you know who had COVID or passed away. It also means restarting programs or starting new ones, and shifting others. Be open to changes as church members also re-evaluate what is most important about gathering for services and outreach ministry as well as programs.
Be sensitive if you work in the nursery as little ones may have more separation anxieties, and parents may need to stay to help children adjust. Many Sunday school classes may want to spend time on scriptures relevant to post-pandemic needs. That might include loneliness, mental health, helping newly widowed members, and fears.
For church leaders, COVID provided time and opportunities to respond and reach out in new ways. Those who went beyond their walls connected with new audiences. Leaders found ways to be more flexible and create new programs. These times challenge church leaders and members to be creative and reach the hurting in new ways.
This after-Covid season will last a while, especially if we need to hunker down again to avoid the variant strand of COVID, but it will bring hope and hopefully strengthen relationships as we appreciate family, friends, and emergency workers more and change our perspectives. Challenge yourself to make positive choices and use the time for bonding and reaching out.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/MariaCasinos
Karen Whiting is a mom, author, international speaker, writing coach, and former television host who loves sharing ideas to strengthen families. She has written Growing a Mother’s Heart: Devotions of Faith, Hope, and Love from Mothers Past, Present, and Future. Check out her new book 52 Weekly Devotions for Family Prayer that includes a different way to pray each week plus stories and activities to explore questions children ask about prayer She loves adventure including camel riding, scuba diving, treetop courses, and white water rafting plus time at home crafting and baking.