Easter emergence

A year after pandemic’s onset, local families look forward to more time with loved ones

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In a year when seeing loved ones has been a difficult and often dangerous endeavor, family was never more important. 

The coronavirus pandemic has gripped the nation for more than a year, as people were urged to stay home and limit their interactions with others while case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths came in massive waves. 

Rhode Island isn’t out of the woods yet, but steady vaccination figures have inspired hope for a somewhat normal spring and summer. This Easter will provide some residents with the opportunity to see family for the first time in several months, a stark contrast from last year’s holiday when celebrations were held virtually or from a distance. 

The DiIorio family — Matt and parents Jack and Sallyann — will likely enjoy Easter with just one another, but it’s been a turbulent past year getting there. Matt, who suffers from a rare condition known as Friedrich’s ataxia, spent eight days in the hospital last June. Later in 2020, around Christmas, all three contracted COVID-19. 

Sallyann said during a phone interview Monday that their sons, Nicholas and Andrew, returned home to help take care of Matt while they were ill. 

“We all had COVID, which was really challenging and tough,” Sallyann said. “Our boys came home from New York and Virginia to help take care of Matt, so they took over his care and that was really a game-changer for everybody. … [Matt] survived COVID, which was a Christmas miracle for us.” 

Sallyann said, and Matt agreed, that they are doing “fairly well” since. They have switched to a new in-home care service, which is on-call 24/7 in case Matt needs assistance at any time of day or night. 

“They will come out to the house whenever, day or night, so we really felt like that would be very helpful and advantageous to us to have access to a nurse, if we need somebody at 2 o’clock in the morning,” Sallyann said. “That’s what we’re doing. We had support and love and help and food. I think we still may have chicken soup in our freezer. The outpouring from family and friends has been unbelievable.” 

Family has been “very crucial” for the DiIorios during the past year, as Sallyann reiterated that their sons coming home to help was a “game-changer.” They’re unsure if Nicholas will make the trip down from New York for Easter, and Andrew’s presence is unlikely, but they will be there in spirit. Sallyann said Matt’s godmother may stop by. 

“We are still being very careful about exposure and a lot of people,” Sallyann said. “Anybody who comes to see Matt, the hospice people or any friends — we had two friends over on Saturday to watch golf and basketball, and everyone is still masked up. Matthew did receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine two Saturdays ago. Jack and I, we have to wait because we had infusions when we had COVID so there’s a 90-day period of waiting before we can get our vaccines.” 

Johnston Mayor Joseph Polisena said he’s close to his wife’s side of the family, and it’s been “very difficult” to spend time with loved ones during the pandemic. He said Easter this year will be quiet, as he plans on celebrating with his wife, son Joe Jr. and daughter-in-law. 

“We still kind of don't get too close to each other, except for hugs with masks on,” Polisena said. “It’s tough because I’m used to spending time together, whether it’s Christmas, Thanksgiving or Easter, which is a very special holiday in my family.” 

Polisena and his wife are both fully vaccinated, while his daughter-in-law has received her first shot. While he still urged caution and safety, he predicted the town would be “stronger than ever” when it emerges from the pandemic. 

“We’re just going to be with immediate family [and] maintain the rules that are out there,” Polisena said. “I know we’re going to get up out of this soon. … I’m very, very happy that Gov. [Dan] McKee, he made a commitment to the teachers [for vaccinations] and he kept his commitment.” 

Superintendent of Johnston Schools Bernard DiLullo ringed in Easter from a distance in 2020, as he cooked and delivered meals to various family members. This year, though, he’s looking forward to seeing inoculated relatives. 

“I have a rather large family, and my parents are both in their 80s,” he said. “They’ve stayed relatively healthy through the whole pandemic, but visitation is limited. It will be nice when everybody is vaccinated and we can get back together. We are planning a family Easter because by Easter time we will all have had our vaccinations and will be beyond a couple weeks.” 

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