Along with white lilies on the dining table and colored eggs hiding in the yard, an extra car or two in the driveway will signal an Easter closer to normal this Sunday.
Like cautious bunnies slipping from their burrows, people will emerge from the pandemic for a time this holiday, many fortified against the coronavirus with recent vaccinations.
Some will venture to places they haven’t been in a year to reunite with people they’ve seen only on screens, careful to still mask their joy behind face coverings.
In Cumberland, Lynne and Dante Ramos are hosting a purposely limited family gathering that will have as the guest of honor her mother, Barbara Anderson, 91. She lives nearby at the Chapel Hill assisted-living facility and, like many elderly people, endured a year painfully distanced from those who love her.
“We are able to talk every day, and I send her a bag of treats each week so she knows I’m thinking of her,” says Lynne. “But it’s been very, very hard for people like her.”
Other than a kind of a reconnaissance trip to the house earlier this week, “It’s been slightly over a year since she has been over,” says Lynne.
Lynne and Dante’s two children, Kimberly, a North Kingstown teacher, and Dante Jr., a magazine editor in Boston, are coming with their significant others.
“And anyone who hasn’t had their vaccine is eating out on the porch whether they want to or not,” Lynne says.
To be extra cautious, Lynne plans to set her mother up in the family room with her plate of turkey and trimmings (“my family doesn’t really care for ham”) and someone to keep her company.
“We can’t go all this way trying to protect her and suddenly have some slip-up,” she says.
Joseph Wendelken, spokesman for the state Department of Health, said no state prohibition exists on residents of nursing homes or assisted-living facilities spending the day with loved ones.
But individuals should check to see what conditions each facility might require, he said, including the possibility of having to quarantine upon their return.
And “people should still exercise caution,” he said. “You should wear a mask and watch your distance anytime you’re near people you don’t live with, indoors and outdoors.”
In the weeks prior to Easter last year, with the pandemic surging across the state and any vaccine still months away, Governor Raimondo urged people to avoid public gatherings and for clergy to cancel in-person religious services.
Today, 84% of people 65 to 74 in Rhode Island have received at least a first dose of vaccine, said Wendelken, and 80% of people 75 and older have.
In Johnston, Maryann Grace, administrator of The Bridge at Cherry Hill assisted living center, said many of her 60 residents — all of whom have now been vaccinated — “were thrilled” with the expectation of enjoying “a little bit of freedom” come Sunday.
Anyone leaving for the holiday must follow proper safety guidelines, she said, including keeping their masks on, remaining socially distanced and washing their hands religiously.
“Last year it was a full lockdown and residents weren’t able to have visits,” Grace said. “It sure makes a difference for them to be able to see their family members.
“You can’t help but think it’s like a new beginning. Spring is in the air.”
Church, empty last year, expecting a crowd
Easter is the holiest day on the Christian calendar, the day believers celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
But last year at Our Lady of Mercy Church, in East Greenwich, “we had Holy Week without a congregation,” says Father Bernard Healey.
The church doors were closed and parishioners watched Mass virtually in their living rooms and kitchens, without the celebratory bond of community.
This year “the doors are open and the people can come,” he says.
State occupancy rates for churches is now allowed at 75% and with the church practicing social distancing — meaning skipping every other pew — the real occupancy rate is closer to 40% or 50%, said Father Healey.
But he’s expecting an overflow crowd come Sunday, so church officials have opened up the cafeteria at Our Lady of Mercy School across the street and will livestream the Sunday Mass.
“The people who were going to church, virtually or in person, survived the last year with more hope and more happiness,” he said.
And this Easter, “there is extra joy, extra glory.”
Flower sales bloom
Richard Espeut, owner of Frey Florist & Greenhouses — it opened in Providence shortly after the 1918 flu pandemic — says people are expressing a similar kind of joy in flowers again this year, a peculiar twist of the pandemic.
Until last year, people’s interest in purchasing flowers for Easter had wilted a bit.
“But last year we did a tremendous business because people couldn’t visit and go to dinner, but they could send flowers.”
This year it is the same, with people rediscovering “the emotional impact that flowers have” — and keeping his florist shop humming.
“My customers are happy — but they’re also keeping their masks on, doing the things we should do. We all want to get out of this.”