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Having family members overseas during Coronavirus

My family lives in a different country.  A small Eastern-European one where things, in general, happen a bit slower than other more-developed countries. 

My parents and my grandmoms come from the very traditional generation of “having a bit of flu is not a reason for you to stop going about your daily life”, so they are not the best when it comes to health culture.

I know, because I am the same. Unless something is very serious (and by that I mean Google does not have the answers, or the answer is so concerning that I now reeeeally have to see a doctor) I will simply ignore it and “man-up”. 

Following this mindset, I consciously decided to live in blissful ignorance for the last few weeks. It was a way to keep myself sane and not overthink how safe my family was but also- not scare them. The occasional phone calls always follow the same suit- “ I am fine- nothing new” – repeat twice a week. 

This slowly turned into a chant: 

“It is just a bit of flu”, “I call my family often enough- they are fine”, “ My granny lives in the mountains- she is safe”  I will repeat this several times a day, whenever another COVID19 update comes up. 

A couple of weeks ago was the first time I called my mom (who lives alone and suffers from chronic bronchitis) feeling more anxious than I was willing to admit.

As I listened to her light-hearted response, ensuring me that she is fine, and the cough I just heard was because of her “dry throat” I felt the panic overtaking my otherwise very calm voice.

Before I knew it I was reciting all the advice I have unconsciously stored in my brain – wash your hands, avoid crowds, use your own car to travel, make sure granny knows what to do and she doesn’t act like an untouchable character from an apocalypse movie. 

Hung up the phone thinking- Good- I managed to scare my mom enough so that she takes it seriously and does what she has to do to stay safe. 

Next on the list- Dad. A man who smokes so much that I am surprised how the fire alarm in his office doesn’t get activated every time he walks in.

This one will be tough.

My dad thinks he doesn’t have health – mental or physical.

You know- he is old-school, a soldier, he knows how to deal with a bit of a cold. I start using my manipulation ….erm…negotiation skills I mean. As I tell him about how seriously we are taking this here in London, how his smoking habits (this is where the conversation changes direction for a second) don’t help the situation, how little brother is about to get married in a few months, I can hear some insecurity in his voice. Did I win? Will my dad actually start washing his hands to the ‘happy birthday’ song? 

Before I knew it my mom had sent me about 16 different articles and videos on what she already knows and is doing, reassured me that gran is “under control” too ( good luck with that I thought).

She asked me if I have enough food at home, told me to use my scarf if I can’t find a face-mask and sent me a link to where I can find some miracle seaweed that supports your immune system. 

Chill Hrisi… Your parents might be old-school, but they also watch the news, love a bit of panic and want to see grandchildren at some point. 

So here it comes- the self-managing voice in my head telling me it’s time to acknowledge I feel anxious. And scared. And helpless. And out of control. And still in a bit of denial. And yet somehow comforted by the fact that my parents know what to do. 

My ops brain wants a strategy so here is what i have so far: 

  • Check-in with the family every few days. Keeps me calm and they are happy that I call more often now. I also get a bit of the family gossip which is always fun to know 
  • Be vulnerable. Tell my old-school parents/ grannies that I am worried about them. That although I don’t want them and myself to live in fear,  maybe we should all acknowledge that this is not “just a bit of cold” 
  • Allow myself to feel a little scared and talk to my brother who lives close to my family about this. Ask him to keep a close eye on them and …well… convince him to wash his hands to the ‘happy birthday’ song too
  • Talk to other people who have to deal with the same. Talk to people in general (my rebellious resentment to tech finally becomes quieter)
  • Talk to Sarah (my coach) about the overwhelming feeling of living abroad and having parents that are not in the greatest health
  • Try and do things that are available and feel self-supportive so that I don’t go all crazy overthinking what could happen to my family. (finally get to read that book that’s been by my pillow for months and watch that weird Netflix show…hmmm… I do pay for that language app too… maybe it is time to get better at my French language) 

With all that said- I am noticing how much support there is online. How many people reach out to share their worries and how we are all in a way unified by the most natural and basic instincts of them all- survival (and apparently mountains of toilet paper).