Excited to share that the book Grief and Fatigue: Families & the Pandemic, Stories of Struggle and Hope has just been published thanks to the work of Michael Lang and Peter Nicholson. This is the third book in a series on the pandemic with the goal of providing advice, support, compassion, and hope from mediators and professionals from around the world. I was happy to contribute my story Four Graduations and a Surprise Wedding in March of 2022 to the book. Here is the unedited version.
Our family had a big year in 2021 -- we celebrated four graduations and threw a surprise wedding!
To recap: our five children embarked on new phases in their lives in 2021. Katherine graduated from college and moved to Houston with her boyfriend; she is working in sales and marketing. Will graduated from military college and is in northern Virginia working in cybersecurity. Julia graduated from graduate school with a Master's degree in Journalism and relocated back to Arlington with her boyfriend; she is working as a writer in D.C. John graduated from high school and went off to college, continuing his work for PBS. Katie started a new job consulting in D.C. and bought her first home.
Education and work for our children during the pandemic was very difficult for John, a high energy extrovert, who spent much of his junior and senior years of high school at home learning and working remotely. Katherine and Will, however, adjusted nicely to attending college online for many months. Julia adapted well to working on her graduate degree remotely, and Katie had no problem starting a new job working remotely from home.
It is not easy to throw a surprise wedding, but Joel and I figured that having met over fifty-five years ago in kindergarten in Buffalo, N.Y., dating for the past eleven years, and being engaged for the past six years, the time was right. We were suddenly empty nesters. We thought a surprise wedding just before the holidays would be wonderful for everyone. We knew that the children would be very happy and excited for us. In addition, their lives would not be impacted in any way from our marriage. We had blended our two families very slowly and gradually over the past eleven years. Most people assumed we were already married.
It was challenging to accomplish the goal of having our children gather in one place on time, and we were worried that maybe their jobs would interfere or that they would not be punctual or that they would not be dressed appropriately for wedding pictures. We had told them weeks before that we were having a family gathering at 11:30 a.m. on December 19th. They kept forgetting. So, we told them the day before that there was going to be a wedding.
The night before the wedding, December 18th, the photographer canceled abruptly after I emailed her to confirm details for the wedding day. She said in an email that we were not a good fit for her because she was not vaccinated at all. We felt stressed, angry, and defeated. It would have been nice to relax the night before our wedding. John found a replacement photographer who was vaccinated, always wears a mask when he photographs weddings, and was available last minute.
Katherine’s Saturday morning flight from Houston had been delayed for hours, and she finally arrived home Sunday morning, the day of the wedding, at 3:30 a.m. I had a nagging thought in the back of my mind that she could be Covid positive, given she had spent the entire day and night at the airport with throngs of holiday travelers.
We had a wonderful wedding day on Sunday, December 19th. There were a total of ten people at our wedding at home: five kids and a boyfriend, one rabbi, one photographer, and a bride and groom. Our long time friend and rabbi Jeff played two beautiful songs on his guitar. Afterwards, our family went to brunch on the Georgetown waterfront and then returned home to exchange holiday gifts and trim the tree. While we would have loved to have had our families and friends with us, we did not consider having a bigger wedding due to the current Omicron variant. It was fun to share pictures and the video of our wedding later that night. We loved hearing that our happy news surprised everyone, made people smile, and was a bright spot in a long hard year.
Katherine flew back to Houston on December 20th, received her booster vaccine the following day, and the next day, December 22nd, she texted to say she had tested positive for Covid. We could not believe this news. We all tried to remain calm. Luckily, she did not feel sick and never developed any symptoms. We notified the rabbi and photographer immediately. These calls were tough to make right before the holidays. It was impossible at first to find Covid home tests in the stores just before Christmas Day. The lines for PCR tests were eight hours long outside at the testing kiosk we had used previously. Drop-ins were not allowed, and appointments were not available anywhere. We finally were able to purchase rapid home tests on Christmas Eve day after a lot of driving around and searching. We were relieved that we all tested negative.
Several friends and relatives were in touch those last days of December to congratulate us and to say that they had come down with Omicron after months of avoiding Covid. Knowing that their symptoms were manageable and mild helped us to work through the fear and anxiety we had about being directly exposed to Covid. We felt that we had done the right things for so long – getting vaccinated and boosted, wearing masks, washing hands, staying at home, avoiding crowds. We knew we needed to continue to take those precautions. Our decision to remain vigilant and careful was strengthened because we know two people suffering with long Covid.
Long walks in nature on sunny days have helped us to cope with the exhaustion of dealing with Covid. With spring approaching, we are looking forward to getting back out into the world at our own pace after a long two years of staying inside and being careful. We don’t plan to throw caution to the wind, but we do feel ready to get out of the house, and do the things we used to love to do, all while continuing to protect our health.
Photo by JB Elliott photography
Ellice Halpern, J.D., is a Virginia Supreme Court certified general and family mediator.