Uiversity Park, IL,
16:46 PM

The Gift of Presence During a Pandemic

Even the introverts among us are craving a little eye contact these days, and welcoming the gift of a big smile.

As Illinois’ Stay-at-Home order extends into its second month, it’s more important than ever to mark special occasions by reaching out. The month of May brings so many reasons to celebrate: Cinco de Mayo, Mother’s Day, Star Wars Day, graduation and Memorial Day, not to mention birthdays and anniversaries. Did we say graduation?

Kristina Wilkerson, Assistant Director of Counseling and Wellness at Governors State University has a message just for the Class of 2020 Jaguars: "You have achieved an amazing goal, and although we may not be able to celebrate in the ways we wish, you still can," she said. 

To celebrate graduates, moms, and loved ones, pick up the phone, jump on a Zoom call, order up some flowers, get the kids to make a card you can put in the mail. “Get creative in sending your love,” she said.

What's most important is to remember that even during the pandemic, good things are still going on.

“It’s about living life. Life is to be experienced.”

In fact, the urge to celebrate is buried deep inside our psyche, the essence of human nature, Wilkerson said. “It’s instinctual. It’s not enough to just eat and sleep. We need to socialize, to connect to other human beings. And it’s good for you mentally, emotionally, even physically. When you’re having a good time, your adrenaline goes up. You’re energized, you’re happy, you’re excited.”

Plus, it puts you in the present, pulling you away from your cares and worries. “We focus on the future so much because we’re goal-oriented,” Wilkerson said. “But when you celebrate, you are in the moment. Just being present helps with anxiety because you have a sense of control right now, this minute. If you’re at a Zoom party, you’re not worrying about toilet paper.”

But what do you do when so much seems to be upside down?

Go old-school. Go new-school. It’s all good, Wilkerson said, adding it's a perfect time to get crafty.

“I pulled together a bunch of photos from last year for my 94-year-old grandmother and sent them to her. Then I called her on the phone and we talked about them, which we both really liked,” she said. “I have one client who does a lot of scrapbooking, and she’s going through old stuff and putting it together to send to friends and family.”

Many people are turning online to connect with FaceTime and Zoom. Technology offers even more options, and now is a good time to explore them, she said. Organizing a group virtual tour of a museum or national park is another way for families to share an experience online. “It can be a great way to learn more about heritage and culture, like with Cinco de Mayo, which celebrates Mexican independence,” she said.

Now, with the weather warming up, it’s even possible to get outside and share smiles, food and music. Some neighbors are planning front-yard barbecues, Wilkerson said. “Break out the grill, turn on the music, dance, enjoy each other! You can still do it as long as you stay apart. It’s just a little bit different right now. It’s important to see how connected we still are.”

A lot of families will be wondering how to honor their favorite member of the Class of 2020, from grade school to graduate school. Wilkerson encourages families and loved ones to mark the momenteven though schools cannot.  “Mark that milestone right now. It’s a good time for Zooming. Everyone can put on their good clothes. Celebrate the graduate,” she said.

Closer to home as Jaguars graduate, Wilkerson offered warm congratulations and a reminder that "graduation is an ending to one academic journey, but it's also a beginning."