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What We've Lost: Milestones

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The holidays usually serve as opportunities to gather with loved ones, mark the end of the year and celebrate the possibility of a fresh one. But during a pandemic, coming together just isn't safe.

MIKE KLOTZ: My wife and I have been upset to miss Christmas but at the same time trying to do the safest thing possible to make sure everybody can share Christmases for future years.

CHANG: That's Mike Klotz in Benton Harbor, Mich. He says both sides of the family usually stay in his home for the holidays, but they thought there was good reason to cancel this year, although not everyone agreed.

KLOTZ: You know, we kind of assumed it was going to be understood. But then all of a sudden, it kind of became a little bit of a passive aggressive type of - a guilt trip type of thing. So - oh, are you guys still going to host Christmas?

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

But Klotz and his wife held firm, feeling the risk wasn't worth it, especially as the COVID death toll broke new records every day. They're not alone in that sacrifice. People all over the country, all over the world, have been missing crucial milestones this year - those pins we use to map our lives, mark our accomplishments and honor those we love. For our series, What We've Lost, we acknowledge here four lost milestones - a year of birthdays, a graduation, a wedding and a funeral.

ZOE MADI: I'm Zoe. I'm 35, and I live in Wilmington, N.C. And we have missed a lot of milestones this year. We have four kids, so it's been simple things, like birthdays in general. We don't have family in town, so we usually rely on lots of friends being around for those birthdays. And it's become exponentially more expensive having a birthday in a pandemic as well because I'm just throwing money at (laughter) - at the parties that we're having in our home, hoping to make up for the fact that the kids' only birthday guests are the same five people they've seen for the last nine months.

BRANDI STEVENS: My name is Brandi Stevens. I went to the University of Miami. My college graduation for my bachelor's degree got canceled, like, I think nine days before. I understand the situation. Like, I know I want everybody to be safe. But we had people who had booked flights, hotels, Airbnbs. People's entire families were coming down. And these things were non-refundable, most of them.

It was a slap in the face because two days after my graduation was supposed to be, there was a football game at the same location that my graduation was supposed to be. They canceled that because it couldn't be able to socially distant or whatever. And then they have a football game two days later with fans. I was angry for, like, a long time. Everything we've planned just done.

DANA TAMIM: I'm Dana, and I'm 24. So honestly, I don't think I'm ever going to get over the fact that I didn't have a wedding. The thing is that I'm Muslim, and we had already done kind of, like, the Muslim ceremony. I mean, in my religion, you can't really live with someone unless you're married, and we had already signed the lease. So we were like, we cannot reschedule the wedding. Like, we have to cancel it. And my sister and his brother are immunocompromised, so we don't even want to risk it.

I don't want to - maybe I'm embarrassing myself by saying this, but I cried almost every day because I've dreamed of this day forever. You know, I still have my white dress at home, but it's just hung there. And I haven't worn it. If I see, like, a movie scene with a bride, I skip it. I cannot watch it because I'm reminded of the fact that I never got to have my moment.

I've seen those weddings going on. And sometimes I would look at people's stories or people's posts, and I'd be like, wow, how come they got to do it and I didn't? But then I'd remember, like, that's kind of a stupid move on their part and just selfish because you're just thinking about yourself instead of thinking of the consequences that has.

BRANDON WEST: My grandmother just passed. It was the second week of November, a Saturday. My name is Brandon West. I am 35. And I live in Park Slope. Essentially, I just got an email with a link in it, like getting a, you know, link for a meeting. So I got on. The next 25 minutes was really just like a service, talking about Scripture. And then at the end, there was a slideshow with music and just some pictures. And that was it. And it was - and at the time, it seemed like, well, I guess I should log off. And it was the most impersonal thing. I've had more personal work Zoom meetings (laughter).

Yeah, I came out of that feeling very distraught about everything because I was very close to her, and there was no physical space that was being held. My grandmother just was erased from the world, and I, you know, have to go back to my life here doing everything I'm doing. And just, like, poof, she's gone, you know? And then the ceremony was just, like, you know, in some, like, weird non-world space to kind of, like, briefly commemorate her. And then that's it. So all the, like, connectiveness of big moments in life just weren't there. There was really no chance to grieve her, in all honesty.

KELLY: There we just heard the voices of Brandon West, Dana Tamim, Brandi Stevens and Zoe Madi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.