My family is finally together. I hope 2021 will be a year of reunions for everyone | Michelle Lim | Australia news

Name: Michelle Lim

Age: 23

Dreams of: Being a social worker

This morning I woke to a familiar voice chattering away at home. After 10 months overseas, my dad has just returned from mandatory quarantine in a hotel. As he knocked on my door to say hi, a sense of relief came over me. His face looking back at me was tired, weary. Throughout my life, every six or seven months, I’d see the same face peering at me from behind my door after a long separation. This reunion was different.

The concept of reunion is something I’ve witnessed through television and movies. In romantic movies, lovers leap into each other’s arms and reaffirm their love for one another. A family member comes home to a surprise party and bursts into tears. When I think of reunion, I think of those things.

To me, reunion is a process. It is not necessarily as emotional as the movies, yet every reunion for me is just the beginning of the inevitable wait for separation again.

After living the expat life during my childhood, my parents decided it was best for my sister and I to come back to Australia to complete our education. I was 15 when I was enrolled in boarding school and, ever since then, separation and reunion were things I had to deal with. I would talk to my parents once every fortnight and they would come back to Australia to visit us two to three times a year. Bouts of depression and loneliness were not uncommon for me but the time away from my parents helped me mature. As time passed, it became easier. Goodbyes at the airport no longer were tearful but “I’ll see you again in five/six months”. My sister and I had our own lives in Australia while my parents had theirs overseas.

In late January, after we had finished Chinese new year celebrations, Covid-19 had not yet arrived in Australia and China had just passed the peak of its first wave. Rumours were going around that the Chinese government was going to close the border to all foreigners indefinitely, and this would mean my dad would not be able to return to China to work. While he was able to work remotely, it was inevitable that he had to go back before the borders closed. My parents made the hard choice for my mum to remain here while my dad travelled back.

The farewell was melancholy compared with our normal goodbyes. This time we did not know when we’d next see each other. Dad was travelling back to the only country in the world to record more than 100 cases at the time. If he caught the virus there was no Medicare or emotional support network. He had to rely on China’s public health system, which was struggling to cope. Death by coronavirus was a theme that often crossed my mind.

My mum had the opportunity to go back to China but that was quashed when the Australian government announced non-essential border closures for all citizens here. And so my family were separated by the great divide that is Covid-19.

I yearned for Dad to be here, in Australia, with me. Pixellated FaceTime calls with spotty VPN connections were the new norm. Updates on how my dad was coping had an undertone of worry and fearfulness. Often calls would end with my mum telling my dad to “eat something” or “go rest”.

At home, it has been an awkward dance between readjusting to having my mum in my space while trying to retain some normality in my life. As I wrote last time, it’s hard being unemployed, even when you still live at home. Tensions have arisen where they haven’t been for years. Independence and routine have crumbled in a blink of an eye.

My dad had been trying to get home for a while and there were numerous flight cancellations. Now he is here. By the time this article is published we will have spent Christmas together. As I’m writing this, there are still people out there who haven’t been reunited.

Refugees and asylum seekers are still in mandatory detention and may not have the possibility of a reunion. Some people have lost loved ones to the pandemic and will never reunite again. There are still Australians stuck overseas, spending Christmas and new year away.

As I reflect upon the past year, I think of these people. While my family has just been reunited, many others have not. 2021 will be the year of reunions. Reunions between families and friends, reunions with employment opportunities, reunions with lost chances and reunions – I hope – with normality.

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