Barbara, left, and Marissa Barnartt pose for a photo outside their condo building in Thornhill, Ont. on Wednesday, February 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Barbara, left, and Marissa Barnartt pose for a photo outside their condo building in Thornhill, Ont. on Wednesday, February 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

COVID-19 brings some families closer together, as bonds strengthen in times of crisis

‘I didn’t realize how much all these people meant to me’

Marissa Barnartt doesn’t have to travel far to see her mother on Family Day on Monday. All she needs to do is open her bedroom door.

In late 2019, the 34-year-old financial advisor moved back in with her mother in north Toronto after giving up her apartment because of an issue with her landlord.

But the shared living arrangement turned out to be “a blessing in disguise,” says Barnartt. The COVID-19 pandemic has extended her stay for more than a year now, bringing mother and daughter closer together than ever.

After losing her father about a decade ago, Barnartt says the crisis has given her the chance to reconnect with the woman who raised her — this time as roommates. And while she wouldn’t mind a bit more space, there’s no one else she’d rather shelter-in-place with.

“Our lives were always very busy between school, work, extracurriculars,” she said. “It is nice knowing that we have that quality time now that we didn’t necessarily have with my dad… Even if it’s too much sometimes.”

While pandemic-related restrictions have separated many families, some Canadians are reuniting with relatives to support each other through the crisis, often rekindling bonds that had perhaps been neglected in the bustle of pre-lockdown life.

The Barnartts said they’ve not only had to relearn how to live together, but have discovered new ways they can rely on each other.

Barbara Barnartt said she’s happy to spare her daughter the cost of rent in return for some help with a home renovation.

“She’s got somebody to talk to, and I’ve got somebody to talk to,” Barbara Barnartt said. “It’s really helped us both.”

Times of crisis tend to pull families together, often because of increased pressure to pool resources such as money and housing, said Barbara Mitchell, a professor of sociology and gerontology at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.

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But the process of sorting into social bubbles has also forced people to think about the relationships that matter most to them, and more often than not, close family members tend to outrank the rest, Mitchell said.

“Families are incredibly resilient,” she said. “They have this capacity to weather storms and bounce back from adversity in ways that can actually make them stronger.”

For Karen Avey, the pandemic presented the inadvertent “gift” of being able to see how much her son has grown since moving to Shanghai five years ago to study traditional Chinese medicine.

Late one night last March, Avey heard a knock on the door of her home in Brantford, Ont., and was stunned to find her 24-year-old standing on her porch.

“You’re going to be mad,” he told her, explaining that he’d been quarantining at his father’s house for two weeks without telling her, because he knew nothing would stop her from trying to see him.

“That was absolutely true,” Avey said. “Then we sat on the sofa, stuck together like glue.”

After he left for school in 2016, Avey said her son had only been able to visit home a handful of times because of the rigours of his program. Now, he’s just a short drive away at his father’s house while working together at his medical clinic.

Avey said her son will only see her outside on the porch to reduce the risk of exposing her to the virus, but she still manages to sneak in the occasional hug as she marvels at the accomplished young man her boy has become.

“It’s a whole new level of pride in who he is, what he wants to do and what he’s doing now.”

Melanie Billark said her grandmother was her “rock” growing up, so when the 82-year-old needed someone to take care of her, she didn’t hesitate to return the favour.

A few months into lockdown, Billark said her grandmother was hospitalized for a psychotic episode after she stopped taking medication for her dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Since then, the 30-year-old artist has been travelling from Toronto to her grandmother’s long-term care home in Oakville to help her relearn routines and counsel her through her mental health struggles.

“If the roles were reversed, which they were before, she would have done anything for us,” she said. “I feel it’s my job now to help her.”

Billark admitted that her new role as caretaker has been both “a blessing and a curse.” With every visit, she has to weigh the risks of infection against the psychological toll of social isolation.

“I have all of this responsibility on my shoulders,” she said. “But it’s the benefit of her own mental health and stability and having contact with someone that it kind of outweighs everything for me.”

While Allison Bradley in Kelowna, B.C., can’t see her parents on a regular basis, in some ways, she feels like she’s spending more time with them than ever.

Bradley said video chat has allowed her and the rest of her family to “visit” her 87-year-old mother and 90-year-old father every weekend, giving them a chance to see their first great grandchild grow up from afar.

She’s also taken the time to digitally reconnect with relatives across the globe, some of whom she hadn’t seen in years.

“I didn’t realize how much all these people meant to me,” she said.

“All of a sudden, we’re not so wrapped up in our own little worlds, and we’re remembering to reach out to the people that we care about.”

Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press

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