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Keeping a connection with my sister during social distancing | COMMENTARY

Kim Flyr, right, during a visit with her sister Amy Neumann when she lived in Australia. The two are learning to stay connected while social distancing because of coronavirus.
Kim Flyr, right, during a visit with her sister Amy Neumann when she lived in Australia. The two are learning to stay connected while social distancing because of coronavirus. (Photo courtesy of Kim Flyr)

My sister drove to my house to walk with me recently — 6 feet apart, of course. We stood in the driveway for a bit of time, catching up on life as we now find it. It felt so odd to greet her without a hug and kiss. So much feels upside down in this new world.

This same sister spent last year in Australia, so I’m used to connecting to her emotionally when we aren’t together physically, but this feels different. So much of this is out of our control, and that is deeply unsettling. How long until I can hug her? What if one of us gets sick before then?

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We walked even though the day stayed gray and misty. We walked because we both needed to get out of our houses and needed connection with each other. She talked with me about her life in the new world — suddenly and unexpectedly trying to home-school her children (ages 6 and 8), explaining why they can’t sleep over at their friends’ houses anymore, navigating siblings having too much time together, cooking every meal and limiting screen time for increasingly bored offspring. And all while still working, just now from home.

This sister is 10 years younger than me, and there are many times that I’ve been jealous of her stage in life. I miss mothering young children, but frankly, not over these last several weeks. I’m sure there have been some wonderful family times in all of this for her and her husband, but wow, that’s a lot to handle.

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I shared a story with her from my life. A few years ago, overwhelmed with parenting one of my teenagers, I suggested therapy. My teen wouldn’t go, so I went alone, my goal being for the therapist to understand that this was all my child’s problem and how unfair it all was. And the strangest thing happened. While the therapist did make some sympathetic murmurings, in the end, she basically told me that I needed to make some changes.

She said that my child and I would then both do better. She suggested that I take better care of myself, set boundaries, take breaks. She talked about self-compassion and self-care. I begrudgingly tried these things, complaining to her the whole time that they wouldn’t help. Well, it turns out these things did help. A lot actually.

I asked my sister if, for a few minutes of every day, she could just stop. Stop working so hard, trying so hard, doing so much for others. We all have to pace this out; this isn’t a weekend snowstorm where Monday is back to normal. This is the new normal. Stop and check in with yourself, take a walk, put a hand on your heart and breathe. Take a break in the middle of things.

This might have sounded like a selfish suggestion in the old world, but not in the new. We have to be fiercer now about the way we love and care for each other. Less hugs and more caring words. Less self-sacrifice and more self-compassion so that we can show up more fully for whatever is ahead. Less labeling people as “others” and more realizing that we are all in this together. The new world has new demands.

And I’ve learned through my own parenting that self-compassion is the opposite of selfish, because it ultimately radiates out, leading to more genuine compassion for others. Even teenagers. This is essential in the new world too. If we are going to break down, let’s rebuild ourselves into something more beautiful and lasting.

Mother Teresa said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” Maybe that is what we are all remembering now, even in our isolation.

And belonging starts with not abandoning yourself. I hope my sister, and all parents and caregivers, can stop for a moment, put that hand to heart, and breathe. And then continue on. The oxygen masks are dropping all around us. Remember the directions on airplanes about whose mask needs to be placed first.

At the end of our walk, my sister and I stood awkwardly, unsure how to leave each other. Much is awkward right now, much is uncertain. But our love flows under it all, unchanged. As I write this, new restrictions mean our walks are over, for now. Yet, we belong to each other — up close and, for a while, from a distance.

Kim Flyr (kim@tulawisdom.com) is a therapist, yoga teacher and writer who lives in Howard County.

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