April 26, 2020 — The night before Lisa Hardesty’s post-vaccination reunion with her 101-year-old grandmother felt like the night before going to an amusement park as a child.
“I cannot wait to hug her,” Hardesty, 54, said a few days beforehand. “The excitement level is like if you’re planning a vacation that’s exciting and stressful until the night before, and then you’re so excited you can’t sleep. We haven’t had that in the last year.”
The day of the reunion, Hardesty and her 17-year-old daughter, Payton, waited outside a restaurant in the town of Holloway, MN, population 97, giddy with anticipation. When the mother and daughter finally caught a glimpse of 101-year-old Elaine through a car window, they started running toward her “like she was a celebrity,” Hardesty says.
“They couldn’t even stop the car before we were hugging her,” says Hardesty, who is a licensed clinical psychologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. “Everyone was talking over everyone. We couldn’t get our stories out quick enough. It was such joy.”
With vaccinations proceeding at a much faster pace than expected, families and friends are safely reuniting after a year or more apart. Most reunions are filled with the joy, hugs, and laughter the Hardestys describe. But there’s also concern and anxiety, especially leading up to the events — and that’s also normal, psychologists and doctors say.
“The social isolation and increased loneliness that people experienced as a result of COVID-19 is one of the most devastating aspects of the pandemic,” says Scott Kaiser, MD, a director of geriatric cognitive health for the Pacific Neuroscience Institute at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA. Now that vaccines have paved the way for safe reunions, “there’s a wide range of emotion. For the most part, it’s relief and exuberance and joy of getting back together. But there’s a lot of emotions contained in that.”
Picture a new mother bringing home a baby for the first time, Kaiser says. “Of course, other people so badly want to meet the baby,” he says. “And that can be great for Mom and Baby, but it can also be a double-edge sword.” The new mom, who has just gone through a massive change, wants to protect the vulnerable newborn — plus, she’s probably exhausted. Now that we’ve all undergone massive changes, “we’re all kind of vulnerable still,” Kaiser says. “We don’t know what people are going through physically and emotionally.”