Skip to main content
First person

Swimming home for Christmas: Missing family in Covid times

By November 14, 2020No Comments

Jane Clarke, like many of us, is living in a different country from her family. Covid has meant it’s been a long time since she’s seen the people she loves the most, and so, if swimming from Toronto is what she has to do, she’s determined to get home this festive season…


On March 15, 2020 when I heard my office was going to be closed for (initially) two weeks as Toronto entered a state of lockdown due to COVID-19, I felt anxious. Most stores were still open and while gyms, bars and restaurants were closing, like most, I believed it wouldn’t last long. 

I was due to go home on April 9 for a week. Mainly, to pack up all my remaining worldly goods from my family home in Ireland as it was due to go on that market that summer, but also to see my family and friends as I hadn’t made it home over Christmas 2019. 

When lockdown was announced, I thought I would get home for Easter a few weeks later. But as the first week passed and numbers continued to soar I began to realise it would be some time before I got home again. 

There are a multitude of reasons someone may decide to leave Ireland. And while there are, of course, reasons they may come back, there are also reasons why they do not. 

I left Ireland three and a half years ago and in that time I’ve travelled home four times for family gatherings, weddings, and joyous occasions. Each of those four trips was filled with laughter, fun and familiarity. 

And then there was a fifth.  

I had to travel home suddenly during the summer of 2019 for one of the most difficult things that I have ever experienced. And after that, I stopped wanting to go home at all. Instead of returning to everything that was familiar, it felt like going home would be confronting everything that was different. Because everything had changed. Changed too much.

It’s ironic though because when somebody tells you that you simply can’t do something, it’s just not possible or feasible, it really makes you want it so much more. We’re simple creatures really. Transparent at times.

I have craved Irish soil more in the last eight months than ever before. All I want is a hug from my friends. A stroll down Grafton Street. A walk around Marley Park. I even want to go to the cemetery where my nanny and grandad are watching over us all, and I despise that cemetery more than anything in this world.

I’ve said to my family and friends, if I have to swim home I will make it back this Christmas. I will isolate for two weeks, I will work shite hours remotely to ensure I can be home and also keep my job. I will likely only get to see some people once or twice and from six feet apart outside in the damp. I will wash my hands every five minutes and get masked. I will get an Airbnb when I return to Toronto afterwards, so I can isolate there. I will follow the rules and make sure it works. Because 2020, you win. I need to go home.

I am one of hundreds of thousands who just wants to be able to go home. To my home-home. To hug my mam and dad. To have my brother tell me to face how much of an eejit I am while smiling out the side of his mouth because deep down, we’re actually two planks who love and care about one another. To see my cousins and their families. To go to the local pub that suddenly now has a gin menu even though the average patron is 80 years old and just wants a cheap pint of Guinness.

To have a laugh with the girls who were there for the highs and lows and all the mortifying coming of age experiences. To have dinner with my dad and chew the ear off him while he sits calmly and just listens. To have a cup of tea and a chat with my mam. A proper cup of tea and a chat without her muting me with her ear, putting me on hold for three minutes before she realises what she’s done and without the phone freezing on her face as she tries to tell me that it’s raining yet again.

I want her blustering around after me in the kitchen, sticking her oar in and asking where I’m going and when I’ll be back. 

After three days we’ll likely have killed each other. And I can’t wait for it.

Photo by Denise Johnson on Unsplash

You might also like…

Read more: ‘The woman who made an impact on me’

Read more: The simple life: When lockdown forces a commitment to a slower pace