CORONAVIRUS

Canceling cherished events because of coronavirus takes psychological toll

'People grieve very legitimately things they've worked very hard on.'

The marquee at Englert Theatre in downtown Iowa City announces that the Mission Creek Festival is off this year. (Andy A
The marquee at Englert Theatre in downtown Iowa City announces that the Mission Creek Festival is off this year. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

Carol Bryant stayed home on St. Patrick’s Day, making her own corned beef and cabbage, when she usually would be celebrating with thousands of others at the SaPaDaPaSo Parade in downtown Cedar Rapids.

Even after planning the annual parade and after-parade party for nearly a year, Bryant, president of the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade Society, knew canceling the event was the right decision because of the risk of spreading COVID-19.

“It is just a parade,” Bryant said with a rueful laugh.

It’s not always easy to acknowledge that the event you’ve been planning — investing in with time, money and emotional energy — for months, is “just” a parade or “just” a vacation or “just” a fundraiser.

“It’s very normal to get stuck on an idea and to want to go through with a plan even when we know it may not be for our own good,” said Laura Fuller, a licensed psychologist and clinical associate professor in the University of Iowa Department of Psychiatry. “In some cases, we tend to magnify the importance of the thing we are planning to do and look at decisions other people are making from a different perspective because it’s not as personally important to us.”

Last week, the Iowa Legislature suspended its session for a month; the Drake Relays have been postponed; and the UI canceled commencement. High school seniors are facing the real possibility they won’t get to experience touchstone moments, including prom and graduation.

“People grieve very legitimately things they’ve worked very hard on,” Fuller said. “Not being able to share those (events) with other people does feel like a real loss at a time when people are already feeling a lot more isolated.”

The Lucas Elementary carnival not only is a community-building event for the Iowa City school of 360 students, but it usually raises between $6,000 and $7,000 — which this year had been earmarked for a playground renovation and other needs.

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The school’s Parent-Teacher Organization has so far postponed the carnival, which was scheduled for April 4. But Co-PTO President Lori Kramer worries the developing pandemic may prevent students from returning to school until August.

“I’m landing on maybe we can host it this summer or next fall,” she said.

Not only would canceling this year’s carnival decimate the PTO’s budget, but it would be a blow to the parents who have spent hundreds of volunteer hours soliciting donations for the silent auction, coordinating games and designing the tickets, Kramer said.

“It’s a huge, huge endeavor and it’s devastating,” she said.

Some event organizers are choosing to cancel events a month or two in advance because they don’t want to lose deposits on venues or must alert participants before they pay for travel or tickets. Marion Arts Festival organizers, for example, have announced they would not hold the annual event scheduled for May 16.

“The artists who were to exhibit with us are disappointed and concerned, in that they’re all small business owners, too,” Director Deb Bailey said in an email.

Emily Wilkinson, 37, of Cedar Rapids, has been planning for a year how she and a team of friends and family can raise more than $100,000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s annual Woman of the Year contest. The 10-week campaign was set to kick off April 2 and include more than a dozen events.

“We have a whole string of events to start April 5,” Wilkinson said. “Odds are really good they will be canceled or crunched up. Even if we’re able to hold some of our later events, people will have much more reluctance to be social.”

Wilkinson committed to raising money for LLS because her niece, 12, has been fighting Non-Hodgkin lymphoma and two family friends recently died of blood cancers. The campaign ends June 13, just before the end of the fiscal year, which means LLS likely will have huge hole in its 2021 budget.

But Wilkinson and her team are brainstorming ways to host online events, like a socially-distant social. Other organizations also are shifting to virtual events.

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When RUN CRANDIC decided last week to cancel the April 26 marathon, half-marathon and 5K, organizers offered runners the opportunity to run their distances on their own and log the runs with CRANDIC to earn their medal, shirt and certificate.

“Creativity happening all over the place is giving me a little more hope,” Wilkinson said.

Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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