We thought we were being cautious enough. We didn’t have a big party or get-together. We restricted ourselves to small, intimate interactions, such as those that many people are likely to have during the holiday season. However, these seemingly innocuous interactions resulted in 10 confirmed COVID-19 infections in our family. The majority of us have recovered, but my father died.

My parents live in Manchester and they had their very close cousins from London visit them just before Halloween, on October 20, 2020. The cousins stayed the night with my parents because it was a long trip. My parents invited my sister’s family over for Halloween the next day and they gathered inside to see the little girls dressed up in their costumes. Soon after, on Tuesday, November 3, 2020, my parents arrived at my house to celebrate my father’s birthday, and they stayed with us until Thursday.

While driving home from our house my parents received a call from their cousins, who informed them that they had tested positive for COVID-19. Fear swept through our family and reality turned out to be far scarier than any of us could have imagined. My parents were the next to receive positive results, followed by my sister’s family, and finally, mine. This virus is a monster. We were all exhibiting symptoms. My mother became very ill and had to dial 911. Paramedics arrived and gave her oxygen to help her breathe.

My sister’s husband and 14-year-old son became very ill. The husband recovered, but her son was still not fully recovered five weeks later. His symptoms continue to include fatigue, headache, and a stomach ache that hasn’t gone away completely. I was feeling a little under the weather. I only had a stuffy nose, but I was suffering from severe brain fog. I couldn’t remember anything for two days and was afraid I’d never be able to think again. Fortunately, I am now back to normal. We’d all lost our sense of smell and taste. It was all very frightening.

But what happened to my father was the most heartbreaking experience for us. When he began to struggle to breathe, the ambulance transported him to the hospital where he was admitted. He was intubated in the emergency room and was on a ventilator for a week. After he made it off the ventilator, his decline continued. He passed away 30 days after his first symptoms.

There is no point in assigning blame to us. There were a lot of adults involved in making the decision to meet in each other’s homes. I’ve gone over it several times, but there’s nothing I can do to change it for us at this point. Our family has already been ravaged by the virus. But I’m speaking up because there’s still time for you to reconsider the decisions you’re making in order to best protect those you care about.

What I want everyone to understand is that love and trust do not equal health and safety. Don’t make the same mistakes we did and think you’re going to be safe because you’re only gathering with a few close relatives inside your own homes. That is extremely dangerous, almost like playing Russian roulette with the lives of those you care about the most.

Look, I understand. This is hard. These decisions are hard, and people you love may get mad at you for suggesting certain gatherings shouldn’t happen because they are too risky. Speak up regardless!