Editor’s Note: The following article was written prior to Christmas 2020.
As I write this, it is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. A few days from now would already be Christmas day. This is the most holy and meaningful occasion of the year when families gather and celebrate together.
This year will be my first Christmas outside my native Baguio in the Philippines. Those Christmases in Baguio were always happy and special because I was with my family. Then there is the bonus and excitement of having other relatives, friends and classmates with whom I would reunite, reconnect and celebrate kinship and friendship, spend time with my daughter and listen to her many dreams and aspirations, or simply find peace and solace in my mother’s garden. This year will be different.
Christmas 2020 will be different simply because our family will not be together physically. My twin boys and I will be in Quezon City, my husband in Mindoro and my daughter in Baguio City. I am happy with the advantages of social media which will allow us to FaceTime with them but it is always better to be with them.
I feel that despite what has been, we still have so much to thank God for. This most wonderful and meaningful time of the year will be celebrated with my whole family together in spirit.
But the magic of Christmas lives on. Celebrations, while simple, will continue. I feel that despite what has been, we still have so much to thank God for. This most wonderful and meaningful time of the year will be celebrated with my whole family together in spirit.
Early this year we were astounded by the coronavirus pandemic. Then quarantine ensued. Suddenly, everything came to a standstill. Ordinary things like securing food became a mental exercise. Should I go out to get our food in the market or should I have it delivered? If I go to the market, what is the best time to go? Is my regular 6:00 am market time when most people are still getting out of bed still safe, or should I go midday when people are trying to avoid the heat from the midday sun? If I go to the market at all, will my feet endure the walk? If I have food delivered, will my budget suffice, because apart from the delivery fee, the food itself is more expensive.
As the weeks passed, many intense emotions like loneliness and anxiety which were a bit paralyzing, emerged and overwhelmed me. As I dealt with my own anxiety, I also worried for my adult twin boys’ mental health. I tried to engage them in conversation and household chores, but it was difficult to know what was going on in their minds. I thought it would help to be more creative with the food I serve them. This way they have something to wake up and get up to. And so I did just that. From YouTube, I learned to cook the food my husband used to indulge them with and which they enjoy and added few more from my favorite food vlogger (video blogger) recipes.
In addition, I agonized over my mother’s high blood pressure attacks and her heart palpitating at a faster rate, both of which were getting more frequent. I would video call her until she was better because I know that she only needed someone to talk to, to listen how her day went or simply hear her woes and small triumphs. I am glad that my daughter has always been vocal about her feelings and opinions that I knew she was okay. While it is difficult to get hold of my husband for regular call or FaceTime due to the poor signal where he is, I always trust that he is also coping well, being alone on the farm and with our family’s physical separation. In our 23 years of marriage, I have seen his resilience when faced with any challenge. We may be separated physically but our lives are but one. 1 Corinthians 13:7 says “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
In July, I reported back to the office on a rather regular basis and was scheduled to go to the Bureau of Immigration on July 21. At home, we had to rethink our way of interacting with each other especially since cases were rising by the thousands each day. Normally, we would use only the air conditioning in one room to save on electricity. This time we decided that the boys will use one bedroom each, and I chose to set up camp in the living room where there was a sofa bed. We observed strict physical distance from each other. We agreed that I will use the common bathroom, and they will use the bathroom in the air conditioned room. They ate at the dining table, and I used the coffee table beside my sofa bed. I assigned separate toothpaste, bath soap, and dining utensils for each.
We may be separated physically but our lives are but one. 1 Corinthians 13:7 says “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
At first, I found all these accommodations cumbersome, but these are necessary. As the weeks and months followed, I found the physical distance from my twin boys agonizing. Likewise, I found myself very lonely and a little desperate and asking the universe when can I see my husband and daughter again, and hug my twin boys again. For three days in September, my tears fell uncontrollably at missing my family. It was a painfully sad time. Thankfully, on these days my twin boys regularly checked on me when I was at home.
On the first week of October, I just could not restrain myself any longer, and I embraced my sons so tight as if it was the end of the world. My sons embraced me back. I was happy but was shocked at what I did. All the restrictions we set ourselves are now down the drain with just one embrace.
During these times when I felt so low and a little depressed, I was grateful to my Columban lay mission family for allowing me my own space of quiet when I was in the Columban lay mission house, for listening to me without judgment when I was ready to share, and they made me feel they were there for me. With them, I did not feel alone.
The pandemic is not yet over, the road to COVID-19 freedom is long, and they end is not yet in sight. However, I continue to have a heart and spirit of gratitude even for what 2020 has been, to seek refuge and strength in HIM for 2021. I remain to trust the Lord’s love for us, the love that assures us of his mantle of protection, the love that promises us of His gentle calm and peace when we are overwhelmed with worries. I trust that the Lord’s love will see us through this ordeal.
Columban lay missionary Mavic Mercene lives and works in the Philippines.