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.

ALSO READ: Readers weigh in on change to B.C. Family Day

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

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

CoronavirusFamily activities

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

FILE – Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have agreed to sign a memorandum on rights and title with B.C. and Ottawa, but elected chiefs are demanding it be called off over lack of consultation. (Thom Barker photo)
Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, Lake Babine Nation get provincial funding for land, title rights

Government says it’s a new, flexible model for future agreements between Canada, B.C. and First Nations.

Kieran Christison, manager of Daybreak Farms in Terrace inspects eggs on Oct. 30, 2020. Christison wants to transition to a zero waste, cage-free facility. (Black Press Media File Photo)
Daybreak Farms aiming to achieve zero-waste, cage-free facility

Kieran Christison, manager, presented the farm’s future plans to Terrace city council

Mercedes Trigo, assistant manager, said that Trigo’s Lifestyle Store in Terrace has experienced four broken windows and an attempted break-in recently, leaving her feeling unsupported by bystanders and the police. (Ben Bogstie/Terrace Standard)
Trigo’s management frustrated by property damage, theft

In a little over a month there have been four broken windows and an attempted break-in at the store

Two RCMP officers have been recognized for their actions in responding to an incident involving a man with a weapon at 4501 Park Ave. on the afternoon of April 27, 2020. RCMP say it was an isolated incident and there is no danger to the general public. (Jake Wray photo)
Terrace RCMP officers recognized for acts of bravery

Two involved in arrest of armed suspect

Rainbow trouts thrashing with life as they’re about to be transferred to the largest lake of their lives, even though it’s pretty small. These rainbows have a blue tinge because they matched the blue of their hatchery pen, but soon they’ll take on the green-browns of their new home at Lookout Lake. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)
VIDEO: B.C. lake stocked with hatchery trout to delight of a seniors fishing club

The Cherish Trout Scouts made plans to come back fishing soon

(Police handout/Kamloops RCMP)
B.C. man dies in custody awaiting trial for Valentine’s Day robbery, kidnapping spree

Robert James Rennie, who was on the Kamloops RCMP’s most wanted list, passed away at the North Fraser Pretrial Centre in Coquitlam

Photos of Vancouver Canucks players are pictured outside the closed box office of Rogers Arena in downtown Vancouver Thursday, April 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Canucks games against Leafs postponed as team returns from COVID-19

The team has had 11 games postponed since an outbreak late last month

Danita Bilozaze and her daughter Dani in Comox. Photo by Karen McKinnon
Island woman makes historic name change for truth and reconciliation

Becomes first person in Canada to be issued new passport under the TRC Calls to Action

Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops. (Dave Eagles/Kamloops This Week file photo)
RCMP intercept vehicle fleeing with infant taken from Kamloops hospital

The baby was at the hospital receiving life-saving care

Vancouver Police Const. Deepak Sood is under review by the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. after making comments to a harm reduction advocate Sunday, April 11. (Screen grab)
VIDEO: Vancouver officer convicted of uttering threats under watchdog review again

Const. Deepak Sood was recorded Sunday saying ‘I’ll smack you’ and ‘go back to selling drugs’ to a harm reduction advocate

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate persists, 1,005 new cases Friday

Hospitalization up to 425, six more virus-related deaths

Premier John Horgan receives a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine at the pharmacy in James Bay Thrifty’s Foods in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. Premier John Horgan gets AstraZeneca shot, encourages others

27% of residents in B.C. have now been vaccinated against COVID-19

The Nautical Dog Cafe at Skaha marina is getting its patio ready in hopes Mother Nature will provide where provincial restrictions have taken away indoor dining. (Facebook)
‘A lot of instability’: B.C. restaurants in layoff limbo

As COVID-19 cases stay high, restaurants in British Columbia are closed to indoor dining

Most Read