For one family, pandemic has forced tough conversations — and lessons in unconditional love

A woman in a wedding dress surrounded by family members.
Tiffany Hochstetler Dillon (fourth from left) poses for a picture with her parents and siblings at her wedding in 2017.
Ashley Christine Photography | Courtesy of Tiffany Hochstetler Dillon

In August, Tiffany Hochstetler Dillon and her sprawling but close-knit family were trying hard to remain close, despite sometimes vastly divergent views of the pandemic.

It was a challenge: One sister was treating COVID-19 patients in a hospital. Tiffany’s parents and brother were recovering from the virus. A few family members were still skeptical about COVID-19.

It all created some tense family dynamics, which have become even more complicated as the pandemic continues, and more family members have contracted — and recovered from — COVID-19.

Tiffany and her parents, Gayle and Les Hochstetler, say the pandemic has forced them to have some tough conversations — many of which have underscored their differing perspectives on things like politics, personal freedom and science.

But it has also served as a lesson in unconditional love.

"Just maneuvering that whole mess … I think it's maneuverable when we remember to think the best of one another,” said Gayle Hochstetler. Disagreements with her kids over what's safe and what isn't during the pandemic have been challenging, she said.

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"I need to work really hard at believing the best about each of my girls,” she said. “Even when I disagree with them, I have to remember what their heart is really about."

It would be easy to write 2020 off as just an exceptionally difficult moment, Tiffany said.

But, for her, "2020 was the year of accepting that love is painful and complicated all the time,” she said. “We've never had to sit down and try our best to be nice to each other and be respectful of each other. It's still hard to feel like, 'How can I love you so much and also be so frustrated with you?'"

And at the end of 2020, the big discussion among the Hochstetler family was what to do for Christmas.

Tiffany, who works in health care, argued that the family should stick with state guidelines, which allowed no more than two families celebrating together at once. Meanwhile, other members of her family, including her parents, have remained skeptical of some of the public health advice and restrictions meant to slow the pandemic.

So after many phone calls and virtual family meetings, hammering out the details of who would see whom, and how many families could be together at once, the Hochstetlers — all 26 of them — finally came up with a very 2020 plan for being together at Christmas: Three different Zoom sessions — one for the kids to open presents, one for the adults to open presents. And one for a talent show.

Looking back, looking ahead: As 2020 comes to a close, several MPR News reporters have been checking back in with people they met earlier in the pandemic — about how their lives have changed, and about what they're hopeful for in the new year.

COVID-19 in Minnesota

Data in these graphs are based on the Minnesota Department of Health's cumulative totals released at 11 a.m. daily. You can find more detailed statistics on COVID-19 at the Health Department website.

The coronavirus is transmitted through respiratory droplets, coughs and sneezes, similar to the way the flu can spread.