‘All it took was a pandemic’: How coronavirus helped loved ones reconnect

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It was almost three years since Sarah Elder-Chamanara had talked to her former best friend.

Moving across provinces and life changes put a strain on their relationship, and Elder-Chamanara, founder of Calgary-based political clothing line Madame Premier, told her friend she needed space.

“I know that I actually hurt her quite a bit,” she said.

Elder-Chamanara had been thinking about reaching out for some time to make amends, and the novel coronavirus pandemic gave her a push. She sent a message to her old friend and asked if she wanted to FaceTime, not knowing how she would react.

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“What’s going on now made me realize that I didn’t want [the falling out] to go on any longer,” Elder-Chamanara said.
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“There are always reasons why you think, ‘Maybe not now.’ But considering the circumstances that we’re in today, I think if you’re not questioning where you are now and what you want to be doing differently in the future, it’s a missed opportunity.”

The coronavirus pandemic has caused many people to reflect on their lives — including relationships, said Miriam Kirmayer, a clinical psychologist and friendship expert.

Between more time to think, fear around what’s going on in the world and the desire for meaningful connection, the outbreak has shifted some people’s perspectives.

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“Major life events or difficulties can bring with them a certain level of existentialism and self-reflection,” Kirmayer said.

“What that does is it causes us to think back on our past experiences, decisions and relationships, and also on our current needs and priorities, and perhaps reassess the reasons why a relationship ended, or how things might be different now.”

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For some people, this self-reflection causes action, she said, and people decide they are interested in making amends. They may also simply change their behaviour and engage with loved ones in different ways.

For Toronto resident Alyssa, who asked Global News to use only her first name for privacy reasons, the pandemic has strengthened her communication with her family.

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Alyssa said that before COVID-19, she didn’t speak to her dad and stepmom regularly, and they didn’t reach out to her often, either. They have a strained dynamic, she said, and communication has been a pain point in their relationship.

“Interestingly enough, though, ever since all the COVID news starting escalating, there has been a complete shift in our dynamic — which has extended into the whole family,” Alyssa said.

“Our family WhatsApp group chat that was starting to collect dust has now been talked in every single day since the beginning of March.”

Alyssa said her parents call her more regularly, too, checking in on how she’s doing. They have also offered to help her, should she need any financial support.

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This change in behaviour is welcomed, and Alyssa believes the seriousness of the pandemic has pushed aside any pettiness around “who should be the one to reach out first.”

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“The funny thing is that prior to all of this starting, I was having conversations with my therapist about ways we could work up to me having a conversation with my parents about the things that bother me in our relationship,” she said.

“Instead of therapy, all it took was a pandemic.”

How to reach out

If you’re considering reaching out to a former friend or estranged family member, Kirmayer suggests you first ask yourself why you want to reconnect. Are you missing their friendship? Sorry for the way you handled a falling out?

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You need to be honest with yourself about whether you’re genuinely interested in rebuilding a relationship or just bored or wanting a larger network at the moment. If someone reaches out to you, there’s no need to engage unless you want to — and feel it is safe to do so.

If you do decide to reach out to someone, Kirmayer said it’s a good idea to approach the person with kindness and offer them an opportunity to engage or not. It’s important not to frame your rekindling specifically as a COVID-19 issue but something you’ve been thinking about.

“Let somebody know that you’ve been thinking about them and that you would love to catch up or connect. Sometimes that will necessitate a conversation about what went wrong in the past,” she said.

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“You can say, ‘Look, I’m really open to having this conversation. If you are, let’s make it happen.’ Give the other person a say as opposed to springing this on them and expecting them to be just as willing as you are.”

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For Elder-Chamanara, her former best friend was receptive to her message and agreed to a video date. The two talked last week, and Elder-Chamanara said it felt like “no time had passed.”

Their relationship will need time to fully repair, and it’s not something they can “rush right back into,” she said.

“We probably need to talk about what happened a little bit more, but I don’t see her not being a part of my life,” she said.

“It makes me feel optimistic about the future, not just about the friendship but about things in general.”

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Once the pandemic ends, Kirmayer hopes people learn from this experience and don’t become disconnected. She said if people can take this time to come together, we will come out stronger.

“Hopefully, we’ll use this experience to show us just how meaningful our relationships are and that investing in our need for social connection is another way that we can find meaning and joy in our lives and take care of ourselves,” she said.

“I hope that is the feeling that prevails.”

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

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To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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