'Never Going to Take Our Hugs for Granted': Families Reunite After COVID-19 Vaccination

Families reuniting.

Ariel Skelley / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • As more Americans receive the COVID-19 vaccine, families are now safely reuniting.
  • People are increasingly sharing the stories of their first hugs and indoor visits.
  • When reconnecting with loved ones, it's important to acknowledge how you both have changed and grown through the course of the pandemic.

When Katy Elliott’s parents, Bill and Sue Hankins, scheduled their final COVID-19 vaccine appointment, she helped her three kids create a countdown to the day they could finally hug their grandparents.

After a year of attempted socially distanced visits, missed milestones, and phone calls, the family finally reunited in person.

“It was just the biggest feeling of relief and hope for some normalcy in our lives,” Elliott tells Verywell. “My little world is complete now like that I'm able to see them—we can handle anything now that we have grandma and grandpa back.”

With a third of American adults already fully vaccinated, families are now coming together to marvel at children’s growth, share meals with grandparents, and catch up on stories from a year apart.

“What makes us feel fulfilled and happy is not money, food, or amusement parks, but people and connections,” Norman Blumenthal, PhD, Zachter Family Chair of Trauma and Crisis counseling at OHEL Children’s Home and Family Services in New York, tells Verywell about what reuniting families are feeling. “When we're wrenched apart as we have been this past year, it diminishes a general sense of contentment. When we come back together and reunite, not only does it help us reclaim that happiness, but it also gives us an appreciation of what we missed when we take away that terrible illness called ‘taking things for granted.’”

Joyous Reconnections

Bill and Sue were always around pre-pandemic. They spent nearly every day with their grandkids, deeply involved in the family’s day-to-day.

When the pandemic hit, the family decided to remain cautious and didn’t spend time together inside until the adults were vaccinated. Last summer, without their grandkids there to splash around, Bill and Sue didn’t make much use of their pool. And when the family attempted socially distanced hangouts in the backyard or through a window, Elliott says her young children struggled to understand why they couldn’t be near their grandparents.

When Bill and Sue walked through the door for the first time in a year, the kids jumped up and down in glee, and the adults shared long, tearful hugs. Elliott documented the moment and later posted it to TikTok.

“When the day finally came, it was kind of surreal like knowing that we would actually be able to hug them,” Elliott says.

Circulating the internet are videos just like Elliott's and stories of people hugging loved ones after months of distance. A couple in their 90s reunited for the first time in a year, just in time for their 72nd wedding anniversary, ABC reported. One doctor even wrote a "prescription" telling a patient to hug her granddaughter after full vaccination. Videos on platforms like TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram show people embracing and conversing mask-free with hashtags like #reunitedanditfeelsogood.

What This Means For You

Individuals 16 and over in all states across the country are now eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccination. Once you are fully vaccinated—two weeks after your last required dose—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says you may gather with other fully vaccinated people from three households or non-vulnerable unvaccinated people from one household.

Making Up for Lost Time

Ali Jordahl, a 22-year old, reunited with her own grandparents, Barry and Marta, earlier this month. When they came to visit last fall, both her and her grandparents spent weeks quarantining and getting tested for COVID-19 to prepare. Now that Barry and Marta are vaccinated, Jordahl says they feel a sense of relief that their risk of contracting the disease is diminished.

“We were able to just feel that much more confident that we wouldn't be infecting them at all,” Jordahl says.

Jordahl, who works from home and hasn’t spent much time with others outside her household, says that being able to hug and visit with her grandparents was a welcome change of pace. In the past, Barry, who has Alzheimer's disease, was the technologically savvy one in her grandparent's household. But over the course of the pandemic, his condition progressed, and without his ability to help it was difficult to connect with him and her grandmother.

“They're very technologically challenged,” Jordahl says. “Because of that, they couldn't Zoom—we kind of got FaceTime working, but not really.” Without an easy way to communicate and see each other’s faces, she says it was tough to keep up with the changes in her grandparents’ lives and she felt they were isolated from her own.

“The last time I'd seen him, I don't think the symptoms were very noticeable at all and now they are, which is really hard because the difference is so accentuated by the time between our visits,” Jordahl says.

Katy Elliott

I'm just so happy that we're able to hug them—there are so many families that weren't able to reunite the way that we were.

— Katy Elliott

But when they came to visit in person, Jordahl says it was easier to connect with her grandparents through conversation, touch, and family game nights. "The interactions we were able to have were so much more meaningful and sustained, as opposed to a phone call or trying for hours to get a video call to work,” Jordahl says. “Being able to have a conversation and see their face … was really, really nice.”

Elliott shares a similar sentiment. It was challenging to be physically separated for so long from her parents, who were previously intrinsically involved in her family’s daily life. She says this has been a big year of growth for children, who are 2, 4, and 7 years old.

“They missed out on so much,” Elliott says. “Of course, it was a little bittersweet, but mostly just relief and just complete happiness that we get to move forward now with just so much love."

Blumenthal says to expect that people may have changed over the course of the last year. These can be really positive changes—like children growing and maturing—or more difficult ones like older family members aging. To help process the feeling of missing out on a portion of the other’s life, Blumenthal recommends making space to acknowledge and reflect on the ways that the pandemic has impacted people’s relationships. 

“It's important as families get together to both give verbal expression to how happy they are and excited they are, and at the same time—not constantly—but actually give verbal expression to some of the hardships that they've been to this past year,” Blumenthal says.

Looking Forward

Throughout the past year, health officials warned people to be cautious of interacting with others, to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Even now, health experts stress the importance of not socializing with too many people too soon—there are still many people who are not yet vaccinated, and we don’t yet know exactly how the disease can spread between vaccinated people.

But once we adjust to being cautious of closely interacting with others, Blumenthal says, it can be challenging to return to a state of normalcy again. He says to be patient with this hesitancy.

Jordahl expects to visit her grandparents more often now, being able to offer them more in-person support. She hopes that she can receive the vaccine soon, too, and reconnect with friends and other loved ones she’s been separated from.

Elliott is looking forward to once again sharing many happy moments with her parents.

“When we were going through this last year, I wasn't wishing I was on a beach with a margarita, I wished I was in my kitchen with my mom baking with my kids," Elliott says. “I'm just so happy that we're able to hug them—there are so many families that weren't able to reunite the way that we were. I am never going to take that for granted or any of our hugs for granted.”

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

1 Source
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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID data tracker.

By Claire Bugos
Claire Bugos is a health and science reporter and writer and a 2020 National Association of Science Writers travel fellow.