BATAVIA, IL — It’s been a lonely year. Travel warnings, social-distancing guidelines, and the risk of infection have kept families apart. But as millions get vaccinated, mini-reunions are happening around the country.
At the outset of the coronavirus outbreak, Jim and Kathy Freedlund, both 69, decided they wouldn’t take any chances with their health.
“We were, pretty much, for lack of a better term, sequestered in the house for the better part of a year,” said Jim Freedlund, a retired mailman.
The Freedlunds have two children and three grandchildren.
“The most difficult thing was not being with our kids and grandkids,” said Kathy Freedlund, a yoga instructor.
The safety measures meant the Illinois couple had to cancel or postpone all their trips to see their youngest granddaughter, Joy.
“The first year she was born, her first year, we flew out to Utah six times. They came up once,” said Kathy.
The last time they had visited with the toddler in Utah was Christmas of 2019. Since then, they’ve only been able to see her and their son, JJ, through a screen.
“It was really hard to know that Joy was growing and changing so much,” said JJ Freedlund from Utah. “And for them to just see little snippets here and there and not actually get to be around it and be excited.”
“It was 16 months,” said Jim Freedlund.
But once they were fully vaccinated and waited the two weeks for immunity to kick in, Kathy booked the first flight out to see their granddaughter, who is now a bubbly 2-year-old.
“It was just such a happy feeling to get that stick in the arm and know we're on our way to being able to see the kids again,” she said.
“We weren't even sure if she would actually remember them or know who they were because there's a difference, especially for a kid, between someone that's on a screen and someone that's right in front of you,” said JJ Freedlund.
But Joy had not forgotten them.
Kathy shot a cellphone video of the reunion. In the video, she can be seen talking to Joy through a car window.
“I can’t wait to spend some time with you,” said Kathy in the video.
“It was just I wanted to cry,” said Kathy Freedlund. “I could hardly talk. And then Megan, the daughter-in-law, came to get her out of the car seat, and it was the most darling thing she said: ‘Where’s grandpa?’”
“It's about as close as I've ever come to crying from being happy because I knew we were going to get to see part of our family again,” said Jim Freedlund.
The shared experience of isolation is beginning to be replaced by reunions like this.
They’re happening across the country, as family and friends try to catch up on missed time.
The Freedlunds are filled with gratitude. With so many lives lost, they know they’re fortunate.
“It was nothing short of just a wonderful feeling to be able to have that connection again.”