Back in late March, there was a lot of talk between my family members and me about the possibility of the Canadian border closing due to COVID-19. With my mom, step-dad, elderly grandmother, brother, and his young family all located in Alberta, my sisters and I worried that a closure might mean we wouldn’t see our immediate family for a while. My mom sent me an article about the possibility of the border locking down, but I disregarded it. I was unable to conceive at the time that this could even be a possibility.
Now in August, I am going on five months without seeing half of my family. It feels downright heart wrenching at times knowing that they are so close, yet so very far away. On top of the day-to-day feelings of being isolated, we have also seen holidays, anniversaries, and several birthdays come and go without visits from grandparents and cousins.
Since I am a dual citizen, I could technically visit my family. However, the 14-day quarantine requirement in order to enter Canada makes a quick trip impossible, and it would mean leaving my husband and young children behind for weeks. Though I know this forced separation is a very common reality for many, this is the first time in my lifetime where I lack any control over being able to see my loved ones. The thought of being separated from my children sends chills down my spine, and I am thankful that this is not something that I have to endure.
To take away some of the sting, we connect on video chat frequently and make a point of checking in throughout the week. My mom and I definitely shed tears on a routine bases via FaceTime, while my stepdad provides emotional stability and support. Beyond checking in by phone, the distance has forced us to get creative with the ways that we connect.
Here are just a few things that we have done to make the distance seem smaller:
1. Send snail mail
This is something that I do with my three year old on the weekends. She loves creating little masterpieces, placing stamps on the envelopes, and kissing the letters before dropping them in the mailbox. When the letters arrive, she loves seeing pictures of her artwork placed lovingly on fireplace mantels and refrigerators.
2. Gift loved ones with a digital picture frame
For my mom’s 60th birthday, we gifted her with a digital picture frame. By downloading the app, my siblings and I can upload our photos, and they pop up on her picture frame in real time. My mom jokes sometimes she sits in front of her frame for an hour, just watching the pictures change.
3. Share a meal or special occasion
Even though we can’t get together physically, we can enjoy a meal together on video chat. Every Saturday morning I call my mom and we chat over coffee and eggs, and talk about what household chores we need to get done before Sunday night. When someone has a birthday, we make sure to have everyone present virtually so that the whole family can sing “Happy Birthday” together.
4. Talk about each other, even when they aren’t on the phone
With young children who may not have the greatest long-term memory, I’ve found that it is crucial to talk about their extended family members throughout the week. I will ask my daughter about her aunts and uncle, will make reference to times that we spent together, and encourage her to talk about her cousins. While it makes me miss my family by talking about them, I’ve found that my daughter really enjoys recalling these memories. And for my baby daughter, I try to show her pictures and have her engage during video chatting sessions in order to keep her familiar with their faces.
5. Plan a trip for the near future
Even though it sometimes doesn’t seem like it, eventually we will be able to get together again. So we talk about what we will do in the near future, and it helps us feel a sense of control and direction. Though these plans may take a while to come to fruition, it can be really helpful to have something to look forward to.
When all the above still doesn’t seem to help, I try really hard to keep myself in the moment and avoid drifting into the “what-ifs.” This distance is really hard and emotionally exhausting, but there are also so many blessings to count. And when we finally do see each other again, the hugs will be even sweeter than they were before.