In the middle of the night, a blue light shines near Lalitha Ananth’s face.

She sits in her home in Grimsby, Ont., Watching closed-circuit television footage on her phone. His 88-year-old mother, Neelaveni Soundaran, is on screen, in another world.

In the Coimbatore district of southern India, the sun is rising and nurses are helping Soundaran eat breakfast.

“There isn’t much she can do. She suffers from dementia, ”says Nithy Ananth, Lalitha’s husband, of his stepmother, whom he has not seen for two years.

“She doesn’t know what she’s eating, she doesn’t realize that my wife is her daughter on the phone these days because she’s deteriorated pretty badly.”

He and Lalitha last saw Soundaran in late 2019 and returned to Canada on December 31, just a month before Canada reported its first case of COVID-19.

Nithy and Lalitha Ananth yearn to return to Coimbatore district in southern India to see Lalitha's 88-year-old mother.

Nithy and Lalitha Ananth yearn to return to Coimbatore district in southern India to see Lalitha’s 88-year-old mother.

“In January, when we started hearing about this pandemic, we started to get stressed about when we could go… we booked a ticket to go in July 2020, but had to cancel as soon as the pandemic has started to get worse, ”he said.

Direct flights to and from India only resumed recently, after Canada restricted travel due to the high number of COVID-19 in that country. Still, Nithy and Lalitha were unable to make plans to return.

“We don’t know how long she’s going to live, so it’s very depressing for us not to be able to go see her,” Nithy said.

The pandemic has separated families, especially those living in separate countries, and across borders and oceans. In the 20 months since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, governments around the world have put in place containment measures and have banned people from entering and leaving from their borders to try to prevent the virus from spreading.

And while rising vaccination rates have relaxed some travel restrictions within Canada and between Canada and the United States, Canadians with family overseas have been unable to reunite, making life lonely. or complicates the way they take care of loved ones and contact loved ones.

For them, it’s still a waiting game.

Diklat Georgees has not been able to visit the grave of her father and relatives in Iraq since 2019. She said it was difficult not to visit her father's resting place and hopes to bring her whole family there.

Diklat Georgees has not been able to visit the grave of her father and relatives in Iraq since 2019. She said it was difficult not to visit her father’s resting place and hopes to bring her whole family there.

For Diklat Georgees, the pandemic has hurt the maintenance of cultural ties and the closure.

Georgees said she and her family left Iraq in 1985 after being exiled for her uncle’s refusal to join Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party.

The 40-year-old now works at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton and lives in Caledonia with her husband and three children, while Georgees’ cousins ​​and immediate family still live in Iraq.

Diklat Georgees' family is in Iraq.  She now lives in Caledonia.

Diklat Georgees’ family is in Iraq. She now lives in Caledonia.

His father, who also lived in Canada, made routine trips home, about two a year.

“He passed away when he was there in 2018 – it was his last visit,” she said.

“It was the first time I went there since we left, for his funeral.”

She wanted to return to see her family in Iraq last year, but could not because of the pandemic.

She also wishes she could see her father’s final resting place, she said.

His children have never been to his grave in Dooreh, in northern Iraq, near the border with Turkey.

They are also Assyrians, an indigenous Christian ethnic minority in the Middle East, and Georgees says her children have not been able to connect with their cultural roots.

“We always tell them stories about where we come from… it’s a bit of a difficult situation for us, so we always try to maintain our culture as much as possible,” said Georgees.

Georgees is hoping the pandemic will end soon so that she and her family can visit Dooreh to offer her children closure from their grandfather’s death and see her loved ones.

“In these difficult times, we just have to appreciate all that we have despite the circumstances we face,” she said.

A lonely time

Many newcomer and immigrant families find it difficult to maintain contact with loved ones at home, said Rosemary Aswani, manager of frontline settlement services at the Immigrant Working Center in Hamilton. She said the center worked with more than 1,000 of these families last year and her team of 12 counselors often hear about the challenges they face.

Long weekends like Thanksgiving often serve as a reminder of this disconnection. Aswani said the longer the newcomers have been here, the more Canadian vacations are associated with time spent with family.

“On their first Thanksgiving it might not hit them that much, but once they get into the system and understand that Thanksgiving is a time for families to come together, then maybe that is when it is. – then they will start to feel lonely and miss their family, ”Aswan said.

“When you don’t have a chance to go back, it makes you want to go back more.” – Mélissa Lamarche Cabral

Noura Aljizawi, research officer at the Citizen Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs in Toronto, said some families rely more than ever on technology to stay in touch, but some must also bypass government censorship of these communication tools. .

Families and activists widely use WhatsApp, Signal and other mobile apps to communicate and counter disinformation about the pandemic, she said.

“The pandemic caused everyone to be online, even people who weren’t so online. They have learned on their own how to use and benefit from technology.

Melissa Lamarche Cabral said her family planned to return to the Dominican Republic in December after postponing the visit for years.

Melissa Lamarche Cabral said her family planned to return to the Dominican Republic in December after postponing the visit for years.

From her home in Stoney Creek, Ontario, Melissa Lamarche Cabral recalls fond memories of Sunday meals at her grandmother’s in the Dominican Republic, where the scent of sancocho wafted in the air.

His parents, grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins ​​would meet there after church most Sundays and drink the traditional hearty soup together.

The 20-year-old kinesiology student at McMaster University moved to Canada with her parents and brother in 2015.

Lamarche Cabral said her parents wanted her and her brother to have a better education and job opportunities.

She hasn’t come back since.

Melissa Lamarche Cabral, in the middle, pictured with her family in the Dominican Republic, says she doesn't feel as close to them as before.

Melissa Lamarche Cabral, in the middle, pictured with her family in the Dominican Republic, says she doesn’t feel as close to them as before.

The Dominican Republic’s transition to Canada has had its ups and downs, she said.

She is grateful for better opportunities, but thinks about how the move has changed some times in her life.

“None of my family came to my graduation, I didn’t go to my cousin’s graduation, I had a baby cousin who was born this year – I didn’t meet her” , said Lamarche Cabral.

“I feel like I don’t know them as well.

But a family reunion is in the works.

They have purchased plane tickets and plan to stay in the Dominican Republic for three weeks in December.

“We finally decided that we had to make it a priority. When you don’t have the opportunity to go back, it makes you want to go back more, ”she said.

“We kept delaying our departure and the pandemic made me realize that you have to take the time. “

Community as family

As Nithy and Lalitha patiently waited to return to India to see Soundaran – who, in addition to having dementia, contracted and survived COVID-19 – they spent time trying to comfort others in Hamilton as they confronted also to separation from their friends and family. back home.

“Some young families are not able to cope with stress as much as we can because they are young and new to this country, but we have been living here for 31 years,” said Nithy.

Through their association with the Hindu Heritage Council of Canada, Nithy and Lalitha prepared meals for local international students and pregnant women.

About twice a month, they feed some 35 students with all kinds of homemade Indian food. Pregnant women receive meals from the couple once a week.

The hope, Nithy said, is to make them feel at home, bringing together a sense of family, even if they are apart.

“It’s time to give back to the community… during hard times, times of crisis,” he said.

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