Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 9 August 2020

What being away from my dad on his 77th birthday taught me about coping with the pandemic

Because even if we could hop on a plane home tomorrow, would we?

Celebrating my dad's 77th birthday from afar was reminder of some of the hardest aspects of the current situation. Getty Images
Celebrating my dad's 77th birthday from afar was reminder of some of the hardest aspects of the current situation. Getty Images

It was my dad’s 77th birthday on Wednesday. When I called him, he was as chipper as ever. He and my mum had enjoyed a nice lunch at home, with a cake, and had been visited by a neighbour, who, I was assured, maintained a respectable distance at all times.

It was a detour from the usual boisterous gatherings my perennially sociable parents throw to celebrate their birthdays, but both seemed happy enough.

I’ll have an unbidden flash of panic if my mum calls at an unusual time of day

I like to think that I am faring pretty well through the ups and downs of the current pandemic. I am very aware of how lucky I am, compared to countless other people around the world. But every now and again, like on your dad’s 77th birthday, you are reminded of how surreal and unsettling this whole situation is.

For many of us, concern about our loved ones in countries far away is the undercurrent of this whole crisis. For those of us who live apart from our families, with no prospect of seeing them or being able to care for them if the worst does happen, there is a constant sense of unease.

When airports and borders started shutting down, we were all faced with the same terrifying reality: if something happens, there’s absolutely nothing I can do.

An old photo of Selina Denman with her father, left, and brother.
An old photo of Selina Denman with her father and brother.

I’ll have an unbidden flash of panic if my mum calls at an unusual time of day – quickly allayed when it transpires that she is calling to tell me about her last trip to the supermarket (in extensive detail).

There have been full-blown rows as I try to outline the merits of wearing a face mask in public (not yet common practice in Cyprus, where they live), and they brush off my concerns.

Luckily, they live in a remote spot in the countryside, plus my mum’s propensity to hoard means they have enough food to survive a nuclear fallout, which is a source of some solace.

One of the most heartbreaking parts of this whole situation is the fact that people are forced to battle – and sometimes succumb – to this disease without the support of those they love.

It is one of the great ironies that, as we collectively struggle through the effects of the pandemic, we must do it separately, far from the people we so desperately want to protect. At a time when human comfort and intimacy are needed more than ever, we must keep our distance.

This is exacerbated by the fact that there is no end in sight. While airlines are gradually starting to remove restrictions and take to the skies again, many countries are retaining strict controls over their borders.

We must override all our instincts to dash back to those we miss the most

And even if I could get on a plane to Larnaca International Airport tomorrow, would I? The temptation to be with our loved ones is overwhelming. But the risks are still so high. Do we really want to be getting on planes and in taxis and potentially exposing ourselves to the virus, only to arrive at our elderly parents' doorsteps and give them a hug?

And so we must wait, patiently. We must override all our instincts to dash back to those we miss the most. And hope that things will look very different by the time my dad turns 78.

Updated: May 15, 2020 10:37 AM

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