Man forced to spend second Christmas away from family: 'Struggling'

·5-min read

Like many Australians, Jack Abbott will once again be spending Christmas separated from his family.

Since 2012, Mr Abbott has lived in Perth "on and off" before settling there with his partner, Jack Reid, two years ago.

Due to hard Covid-19 border closures, he hasn't been able to reunite with his entire family, who are scattered along the east coast, for tough times or big milestones.

"I kind of thought after one year that it would be all sorted, but then these new variants just keep popping their heads up and changing it all," the submarine warfare officer told Yahoo News Australia.

Jack Abbott (left) and his partner Jack Reid will be spending another Christmas without their families. Source: Supplied
Jack Abbott (left) and his partner Jack Reid will be spending another Christmas without their families. Source: Supplied

In the middle of this year, Mr Abbott's fit and healthy grandmother, Carmel, died suddenly.

His family was not been able to all gather to commemorate her in the way many Australians would have before the pandemic.

"That's just made it really hard and it's also played on my mind a lot, and it did take me a little while to realise that I was probably struggling with it, to not have that closure," he said.

"It just feels like some unfinished business that possibly will remain that way forever."

Though it's not just the sad times Mr Abbott and Dr Reid have had to go through alone over the past two years.

Jack Abbott with his grandmother, Carmel.
In the middle of this year, Mr Abbott's fit and healthy grandmother, Carmel, died suddenly. Source: Supplied

Just recently, Dr Reid completed his Bachelor of Zoology (Hons) and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, wrapping up nine years of study — a huge milestone he should have been able to celebrate with his family.

"Jack graduating is huge," Mr Abbott said, adding he was in tears at the ceremony because his partner's family should have been there also.

"There was so many times where, you know, he used to call her [Dr Reid's mother] in tears and stuff," Mr Abbott said.

"So she just wanted to be there for that closure, and to celebrate with them, so that that was quite a bit upsetting for for me, as I was the only person there with him and it should be a lot more."

Staying connected during the pandemic

While Mr Abbott has not been able to have a big family reunion, he, along with most Aussies, has used technology to stay in touch through the pandemic.

"Technology really has made living through the pandemic much easier. I speak to my family regularly on the phone, individually and often in a group Facetime," Mr Abbott said.

Mea Campbell holding a stack of letters.
Mea Campbell started Connected AU to foster connection in the community amid the pandemic. Source: Supplied/Clancy Paine

"I have also found that we have a lot more group chats now than ever with family and friends which allows us to all feel connected."

Loneliness has been a universal feeling amid the pandemic due to lockdowns, isolation and border closures. Many Aussies have family members spread not just across the country but the world.

When Covid started to take hold last year, Mea Campbell came up with an idea to help people feel less isolated.

She told Yahoo News Australia she realised the loneliness would have greatly impacted her late grandfather so she founded Connected AU, which fosters connections across the country.

Connected AU has an online book club, gardening club, cooking club and social club, in addition to a national pen pal program called the Letterbox Project.

Connected AU receives around 500 letters a week which are then passed on to pen pals across Australia. Source: Supplied/Clancy Paine
Connected AU receives around 500 letters a week which are then passed on to pen pals across Australia. Source: Supplied/Clancy Paine

"I wanted to programme for people like my grandfather, who couldn't have used technology at all and could hardly speak on the phone," Ms Campbell said.

"The Letterbox Project came that way so then we have that we have some other programmes as well. So I want to bring that to people who are perfectly capable of interacting online but maybe just literally don't have anyone to do it with."

Connected AU, which is based in Dubbo, NSW, has become a success through the pandemic, with some 500 letters being sent through the Letterbox Project every week.

Mr Abbott signed up to Connected AU's 'Sending Joy for 31 Days' program, so his mum Maria Abbott and granny Jill Tonkin can receive a message from him every day.

'Sending Joy for 31 Days' sends 31 curated graphics with positive quotes, inspiration and heartfelt messages through text messages every day.

Jack Abbott with his mum and grandmother. Source: Supplied
Jack Abbott signed up to 'Sending 31 Days of Joy' through Connected AU to make his mum and grandmother smile. Source: Supplied

How to spread love from a distance this Christmas

Mr Abbott and Dr Reid will be spending this Christmas with friends and their family in Western Australia.

"We felt very loved and included for someone to invite us," he said.

Western Australia is set to reopen its border with the rest of Australia in February next year. Mr Abbott said he would be upset if that was delayed.

For someone like Mr Abbott, two years is nothing — but for elderly Australian's it's a lot.

Jack Abbott and his partner Jack Reid
Jack Abbott and his partner Jack Reid are hoping to reunite with their families on the east coast soon. Source: Supplied

"A two-year period of being locked down to someone who's my age is completely fine, we can deal with that," he said.

"But for our grandparents who are 85 years old, two years of their remaining life is such a big part of that."

He believes Western Australia has done their time, though he is mindful that when borders reopen and Covid comes into the state, it's going to be a shock for some.

"Sure, we haven't been able to travel and it has been tough, but we really have probably been the luckiest people in the world when you think about it, in terms of our way of life for the last two years," he said.

Mr Abbott's mum is yet to meet Dr Reid, despite the couple being together for two years, so he is excited for the reunion, which will hopefully happen soon after borders open.

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