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Kept apart by COVID, a family learns to live and love long-distance


Each day this month, we will publish Tales of 2020, the stories of ordinary Queenslanders enduring an extraordinary year. Today, Brisbane mother Carmel Williams tells of a family separated by COVID

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January 2020 – My husband, Wilf, and I had spent the past 6 months taking a well-deserved break from the working world. It had been time to slow down, travel Europe and visit friends across the globe.

It had been a wonderfully refreshing and exciting time, quite strange to spend almost six months together 24/7. We had talked in recent years about working
“somewhere else” once the children had left home. We were both keen for change.

As it turned out, time for change had come. Earlier that month, our son, Josh, had moved to Texas US for his first graduate job. Having spent recent secondments to Seoul and to Kununurra, our daughter, Georgie, was back working in Brisbane.

So, when Wilf was offered a job in the UK, the timing felt right. Barely had we unpacked our holiday bags and we were arranging removalists.

I remember sitting in our hotel room working out our plans. Wilf was starting work in early February. I would stay in Brisbane longer to sort things out, so I booked my flight to London via Houston for the end of March. I remember at the time there being something on the news about a virus in China.

June 2020 – Wilf and I have been apart for almost 5 months now. Our life has certainly changed in a way we could never have imagined. Fortunately, we had racked up all those credits together on our trip last year.

After several flight cancellations I am due to leave for London in two weeks. That is if my approval to leave Australia is granted. I was told by the Department of Home Affairs to expect to hear a few days before my flight is due to leave. I feel anxious just writing that

We have discovered that being a “global family” in the middle of a pandemic is not ideal. Thank goodness for technology.

I communicate with everyone most days. Navigating the 3 time zones is tricky but we try and catch up each Sunday morning for a video linkup which usually lasts for around 1 1⁄2 hours and is good to share some laughs and check that we are all ok. But gentlemen, that hair!

Wilf’s life was certainly turned upside down when within a few weeks of starting his job he found himself in the new position of “Kent and Medway NHS COVID-19 Strategic Commander”.

It has been an interesting and a challenging experience to say the least – but that’s a whole other story! Having spent the first four months in lockdown with friends, Wilf recently moved into our house in Canterbury, Kent with seventy removalist boxes for company.

He rang me at 3am his time yesterday and said he really needs me to come now. Seems like we are running out of those credits that we built up together last year.

Shortly after starting his new job with Macquarie Bank in Houston, Josh went into lockdown which has proved pretty isolating when you have just moved to a new country and know very few people other than your flat mate and his dog.

Bentley, the beautiful Australian Shepard, has been a godsend for Josh, and for me. Houston is now opening up but new COVID19 cases are skyrocketing with hospitals under significant pressure.

Josh’s back up plan if things got too bad was to join us in the UK for a while and work from there but US travel restrictions mean that he currently won’t be allowed back into the US.

That had been a tough realisation for him, so he had decided last week that he had no option for his mental health other than very cautiously start to engage more with the outside world.

But that was a week ago when cases in Texas had dropped to 1,200 per day. A week later they are at 5,500 per day. So much for making America great again.

Leaving my daughter, Georgie, was going to be very hard for me, knowing that it would be extremely difficult to get back to Australia to visit her. I was however comforted by the fact that she would be in one of the safest places in the world.

She had been offered a place to study the Bachelor of Civil Law (BCL) at Oxford University in September and had agonised over whether to accept – she felt like the Oxford experience would be severely diminished this year and it was so expensive.

Deferral wasn’t an option which was really disheartening for her and I couldn’t help worrying about leaving her during these times.

But unexpectedly things changed when out of the blue she was offered a full Oxford scholarship. It was such an amazing achievement and an incredible gift during COVID19. Suddenly three of the family could be in the same country!

COVID19 has certainly changed my world but I feel like I am one of the lucky ones, despite my own stresses and anxieties. I am lucky that I have had the time to take care of our family welfare rather than worrying about paying the rent.

Suddenly in my mid-fifties I have housemates – my friends who were due to move into our house in July arrived four months early (they have a whole other story involving Indonesia and Afghanistan).

I do hope to be reunited with my husband in two weeks, but nothing feels certain.

I had originally planned to divide my time between UK & Australia but now I will be saying goodbye to my beautiful mother, sisters, my faithful Westie, Jock, and other family and friends, not knowing when I will see them again – in some cases not knowing if I will see them again.

What a strange world it has become.

Carmel Williams is married with two adult children. She lives between Brisbane and London, where her husband is currently working

This story was first published in Stories from the Heart, an e-book edited by Dr Johanna Skinner and editor Jane Connolly, and is republished with their permission.  

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