When we’re allowed to hug again

Most of us have maintained the distance in service of saving others from COVID-19, depriving ourselves for months from the physical acts of love. These photos capture the emotional moments of reunion.
Identical twins Maigan van der Giessen (right) and Lana Gilday in Edmonton on June 19, 2020 (Photograph by Amber Bracken)
Identical twins Maigan Van Der Giessen, right, and Lana Gilday, pictured in Edmonton, Alberta on Friday, June 19, 2020, live within a three-minute walk of one-another, but because of COVID had not hugged or touched for nearly 100 days. Both sisters work with vulnerable populations - Lana is a palliative care nurse and Maigan works with marginalized youth so in order to limit the risk for their communities, they have maintained strict social distancing- even from one another. (Photograph by Amber Bracken)

As the pandemic raged on, our worlds fell silent. Stores, gyms and workplaces shuttered, forcing people to retreat into their homes. The days blended into weeks, which blended into months; the only constants were the daily sunrises and sunsets, reminders that the Earth was indeed still spinning. Pleasantries among coworkers were exchanged exclusively through online chats. Birthday candles were blown out in solitude. Our families, often just a short car ride away, remained out of reach.

Most of us have maintained the distance in service of saving others, depriving ourselves from the physical acts of love—a hug, a kiss or a lingering embrace. Couples kept apart by state borders ached for the day they could be arm in arm again, and siblings, such as identical twins Maigan van der Giessen and Lana Gilday, patiently waited for lockdown restrictions to ease.

“Since conception, [my sister] has been cradling me in her arms in some way,” Gilday says.

Twinhood comes with an innate need for physical closeness that van der Giessen and Gilday maintained their whole lives—they did everything together when they were kids, they attended the same university, and now they live a short, three-minute walk away from one another in Edmonton. It’s no wonder then, that after their first hug in nearly 100 days, the twins felt a relief that seemed almost magical.

Nova Scotia photographer Steve Wadden was eager to capture the first 60 seconds of his family’s reunion after 60 days apart. The kids, William, 4, and Joseph, 10, stayed up late making “welcome nanny and grampy” signs. “There was so much anticipation,” Wadden says. When the moment came, he was overwhelmed with emotion: “My dad cried, my mom cried, and I was crying behind the camera.”

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Others around the world felt that same rush of affection even if closeness meant being separated by plastic film—Dolores Reyes Fernández was overjoyed to hug her father in a Barcelona, Spain, nursing home, and Olivia Grant, from Wantagh, N.Y., rested her head in the nook of her grandmother’s shoulder, as if the plastic wasn’t even there.

Amid the dark clouds of the virus is the omnipresent love between parents and children, brothers and sisters, boyfriends, girlfriends and old friends. Love is the reason we retreated into our homes when the pandemic began. It’s also why we’ll emerge. After all, the promise of holding our loved ones again is a moment filled with magic.

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This article appears in print in the August 2020 issue of Maclean’s magazine with the headline, “The great embrace.” Subscribe to the monthly print magazine here.