My mom died just days before Christmas many years ago, creating a painful hollow in the middle of what had been typical holiday bustle. The holiday itself was, for my siblings and me — all feeling suddenly orphaned —  a strange mixture of joy and sorrow. We were mindful of those missing from our table far more intensely than most other years.

Missing not just my parents (dad died a decade before), but other relatives and friends who no longer popped in and out of our lives and celebrations.

2020 reminds me of that Christmas, though the ripples of misery have a nearly unfathomable reach beyond my circle of family and friends that simply isn’t comparable.

The pandemic has taken from so many people, starting with actual lives, then forcing us to abandon the rituals we use to comfort ourselves and each other. We had to skip funerals. Thousands of families didn’t have a chance to hug and cry in community after suffering profound losses. I had the privilege of holding my dying mother and whispering how much I loved her and what a good mom she was. This virus forced many people — my husband’s younger sister among them — to die away from those they hold most dear.

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We’ve all been hit differently, but we’ve all been hit somehow.

We skipped weddings, too. I have friends who dreamed for years of a special day, but postponed it for now or saw it pass in a small private ceremony. You can ache for things that might seem fairly insignificant until you can’t do them, like tossing the bouquet or walking down the aisle amid your closest friends.

No one in my family has lost a job, but so many others have seen livelihoods and even entire careers implode, sometimes choking dreams that were many years in the making as businesses folded.

What year you were a senior in high school or college made a big difference in tons of homes. When it was our turn, my oldest daughter and I both chose to skip our college graduation ceremonies, busy with other things. My youngest daughter — a huge fan of tradition — didn’t have a choice. There was no graduation walk, though she dearly wanted to savor the moment with family and friends.

Every year, my extended family has gathered at Christmas. I’m trying to stuff down my feelings about the fact that we won’t be going this year. My immediate clan is too high risk should one of us get COVID-19. 

I feel brittle and a bit disoriented by 2020 and all that came along with it. 

My mother-in-law occasionally talked about growing up in Germany in World War II, a time when this house or that house was suddenly turned into rubble. Which houses stood and which houses fell hinged on random chance, she said, which gave her an awful sense of dread, without providing meaningful action to avert it or deal with it. 

The pandemic has felt that way, too, like lightning strikes that hit one but not another. But we are not in any sense powerless to act.

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I want to do what might minimize the harm to others. I’m trying to support local businesses that are suffering. My family tries to offer a little help or at least encouragement to those who’ve been hit harder.

Some things, we’ll decide differently because we are individuals. My husband, for instance, wants to wait a bit to see how the vaccinations work.

Not me. First chance I get, I’m going to roll up my sleeve and get that vaccination — because I believe that in a world with no guarantees, it’s a shot at helping us all put 2020 behind us.