The last time I saw my family, it was the day before Mother’s Day. I decided to arrive early, just in case Scotland went into enforced quarantine and I couldn’t come and see my mum. So, late in the afternoon, my boyfriend and I bought some blow-up balloons and mother-themed gifts and made the forty-minute drive to my old house.
My mum seemed mildly happy to see us. She wouldn’t let us hug her, but it wasn’t clear if this was due to health or personal reasons—after all, I had always had a strained relationship with my mother. I spent all of my adolescence in a constant state of desperation to be loved and acknowledged by her, only to be quietly rebuffed at every juncture. This trip was one of the many grand displays of affection I attempted to try and facilitate some kind of maternal response.
The niceties continued for a little while, my boyfriend and I discussing our lives and in turn, my parents discussing theirs. We gushed over the family dog, and quietly drank the lukewarm tea my mother provided for us. Things seemed to be running relatively smoothly, and I sat a little more comfortably on the living room sofa.
She suddenly and with no warning, snapped into a lecture about how I was using my boyfriend as a crutch to avoid adult responsibilities. Her tangent continued to build and build, like toy blocks in someone else’s happier childhood, as she began to mention that my autism and social anxiety weren’t reason enough to take a gap year. One of her particularly unfortunate (and probably politically incorrect) quotes being, “If people without legs can travel across cities for work, you don’t have an excuse.”
I burst into floods of tears, and quickly left. A few days later I sent an email to her and my father saying I could no longer remain in contact with them. She didn’t respond.
However, my premonition had been correct. Soon after, Scotland was thrust into an involuntary quarantine and I spent the next few weeks with crippling guilt. How could I abandon my family, when other people were praying for their relatives to survive? Everything I was reading was telling me about the value of family and community, and I felt shame and self-hatred at my privilege. Nobody I knew was dying, and yet here I was rejecting the things I had.
It took me a long time to realise that my loss was justified. Maybe my family hadn’t died of Covid, but I was still experiencing the emotional destitution of losing them. It was so difficult to voluntarily isolate yourself from your family when everyone else was praying to have theirs back, but it was the right thing to do. Quarantine took things from me, but it also gave me a greater understanding of what a healthy family relationship looks like- something I never had, and never would have with the people who raised me. I chose to dedicate the rest of my time in quarantine to forgiving myself for the difficult decision, and helping those who were experiencing loss and bereavement, whether it was by choice or by Covid 19.