This Rosh Hashana was particularly difficult for me.
As I sat in the improvised shul on the balcony of my neighbor and prayed, I stifled my tears and sadness because my parents were not able to celebrate the New Year with me.
Now, as my kids and I build our Succah, I am trying to come to terms with the fact that my parents will not be able to celebrate Succot with us either.
Since the beginning of COVID-19, older adults have been instructed to limit face-to-face interactions with individuals outside their immediate household to protect themselves from the virus.
The three-week holiday lockdown due to the spread of the coronavirus is not easy on any of us. COVID-19 has forced family members to not visit parents and grandparents at their homes, stop visiting older loved ones at nursing homes and assisted living facilities, and prohibits extended family members from spending the High Holidays together.
Many of the older generation are finding it extremely difficult to be cut off from the types of activities that bring meaning or purpose to their life, including face-to-face social interactions that they are used to having, especially with their loved ones.
We all realize that the implementation of physical distancing is an essential step in reducing transmission of the virus. However, in an effort to flatten the curve, physical distancing is causing social isolation and loneliness. Although loneliness and social isolation can affect anyone regardless of age, the elderly are particularly vulnerable to this.
Observational and correlational studies have linked persistent feelings of social isolation and loneliness with higher risk of developing certain mental and physical health conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, anxiety, depression and even premature death. To put things in perspective, studies have shown that feeling isolated is just as harmful to your physical health as smoking 15 cigarettes every day, and it affects the human body twice as much as obesity does.
We need to work at preventing and reversing loneliness with the power of our mind and positive thinking, and the understanding that the current situation is temporary.
Consequently, this year we need to find creative ways to stay connected.
- Using technology such as Zoom and WhatsApp video, we can keep face to face connection. Although it is not the same as personal visits, for the moment video calls are the next best thing. This allows my parents to work together with their grandchildren and show them how to prepare Succah decorations.
- Other families who have elderly parents who are less technologically savvy can maintain connection with their loved ones, by setting up regular phone calls as part of their daily routine.
In these unprecedented times, of which we do not have control, we all need to remember that by keeping our distance, we are doing what is in our power to help protect our parent’s health.
We are all in this together – and by sticking together we will all make it through this.
So, this year, while I build my physical Succah with my children, I am also building another one, a virtual Succah with my parents. One in which they can celebrate the holiday with us.
We can prevent and reverse loneliness with a positive mindset. At the moment, and for the moment, it’s the best we can do.