Today, I will be able to hug my nine-year-old daughter, Morgan, after being separated since early November.
It’s not an uncommon situation to be in; there are countless families waiting to be reunited over the Christmas period after coronavirus forced them apart.
But for us it’s slightly different, because I’ve been socially distancing from Morgan within my own house.
I’m a cancer survivor, have Crohn’s disease, fibromyalgia, asthma and thyroid disease. Every day I deal with chronic pain and fatigue that impacts my ability to function.
It also means that since March, I have been considered high risk and have taken precautions to protect myself and my family. Initially that meant that my husband, daughter and I would stay inside but when my daughter returned to school I had to retreat to my bedroom and distance myself from my loved ones.
While I have every faith that my daughter’s school is doing as much as they can to stop transmissions, there is still a risk. And I don’t know if I would survive the virus if I caught it.
To say that separating myself from my family has been heart-breaking is an understatement.
I’m lonely, and I’m sad. There are times where I just have to kind of shut down to try and get through it. I spend a lot of time sleeping. I know how easy it would be for me to fall into depression.
All I can say is that I’m really grateful for my pets. During the first lockdown, my cat – my best friend that I brought with me to Wales from Florida 11 years ago – died. The loss devastated me. We got new kittens a few months ago, and to be able to take care of them from my bedroom, has really been a lifeline.
But what really gets me through is seeing Morgan at the end of her school day. When she gets home, she drops everything from the outside world on the landing, comes into the house and washes her hands before jumping in the shower and putting on her ‘inside clothes’.
I leave my bedroom door open and we have a chair in the doorway, where she sits. We discuss her day and what her plans for the next day are. We watch films and eat dinner from metres apart. I essentially live my life through that doorway.
We’ve come up with ‘the back to back hug’ where Morgan puts on a mask and we stand facing opposite directions and, touching backs, we wrap our arms around each other and squeeze, too. I’m grateful every second of these interactions; they make it bearable.
It’s difficult for me but I know it’s hard for my daughter, too. We’re such an affectionate family and before this year Morgan would regularly sit on my lap and give me kisses and cuddles.
The one positive to come from this is that she is thriving at school.
Before we sent her back to school in November, I was homeschooling her, like many other parents around the country. Unfortunately, it wasn’t easy. Firstly, I’m not a teacher and there is only so much she could learn from me. Secondly, my chronic illnesses meant that I couldn’t be consistent with her lessons and education.
Despite the personal risk of sending her back, I felt like there was no other option because my mental and physical wellbeing were suffering as a result.
Both my health and her education need protecting, but what clinched it was that Morgan is in the last stage of receiving an autism diagnosis, which had to be done at school. She also started to desperately miss her friends.
Seeing how happy she was to be back made me realise I had made the right decision, but it has been lonely.
Especially because it means I am also separated from my husband, as he is in close contact with our daughter. Even before this year, we spent so much time together. He takes care of me and I truly see him as a part of me. We’re so lucky to have an incredible relationship and are still in love like school children.
The loss of my connection with him just compounded all the other grief from not being able to have my normal relationship with Morgan, too.
Which is why today is so important to me. We pulled Morgan out of school last week after a rise in cases and she has been going through a 10 day ‘quarantine’. Today marks the end of it and I am free to leave my room. I feel giddy with excitement to be able to cuddle my daughter and husband again.
It also marks the last night of Hanukkah, where we light the candles and hold each other. While we celebrate Christmas as well, I’m Jewish, so this is the celebration that is more significant to me. To be able to spend it reunited with my husband and child means more than words can explain.
Being able to leave my room won’t bring too much change to my life – given I haven’t left the house since March – but we’re planning on driving around the city to look at some lights.
By now we’re quite adept at making fun without going out.
For my daughter’s birthday this year we set up a makeshift fun fair for her in the back garden, featuring a mini cotton candy machine and marshmallow toasting kit. She called it the best birthday ever, even if she couldn’t have friends there.
I know that the next few weeks are going to be filled with fun and love, even if we can’t see my husband’s family near us, or my mom in Florida.
Ultimately, my daughter will go back to school next year and I will return to my bedroom. I don’t know if I’ll be able to get the vaccine when my time comes because I often have adverse reactions to medicine, so I could be isolated for a long time.
For now, I’m trying not to think about it. Instead, I’m cherishing the days to come and spending time with my nearest and dearest.
Melanie was able to access online support through Scope’s Parents Connect six week course for parents of disabled children, which provided her with a valuable network during this trying time. You can find out more information about it here. To donate to Scope’s appeal visit www.Scope.org.uk/donate/
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