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Emotions run high as families reunite after two years apart

News

Emotions run high as families reunite after two years apart

After festive plans were curtailed last year, families are hoping to resume their traditional holiday activities

Journalist
Xolani Matabeni with wife Phindiwe and childtren, from left, Ovayo, Akhana, Phuyolo and Olothando prepare for their holiday journey from Cape Town to the Eastern Cape.
ALL ABOARD Xolani Matabeni with wife Phindiwe and childtren, from left, Ovayo, Akhana, Phuyolo and Olothando prepare for their holiday journey from Cape Town to the Eastern Cape.
Image: Esa Alexander

A year ago, Lusanda Ntoni was juggling work and looking after his sickly wife Nontando, who had Covid-19.

There was no prospect of sticking to the family tradition of spending Christmas with his mother and extended family Makhanda, Eastern Cape.

There have been so many losses of life during the pandemic that people might be celebrating without that special family member. So there may be feeling of loss, grief and remembrance.
Shifra Jacobson, co-ordinator of the Counselling Hub

“It was an awkward Christmas for my small family. People were dying and the only way to minimise infections was not to meet with people, as there was no vaccine,” said the Cape Town business analyst.

Fast-forward to 2021 and the Ntonis, now fully vaccinated, are among the thousands of families who will be reunited with loved ones this festive season for the first time in two years.

“I can’t explain the excitement that I’m feeling, I have started counting down the days before our holiday starts,” Ntoni told Sunday Times Daily.

“We haven’t seen some family members since 2019. Sadly, some have passed on and we couldn’t even attend their funerals.

“We hope it’s going to be a good Christmas compared with last year’s one. We want to celebrate that we are alive. We feel a sense of relief that most of us are vaccinated and hopefully will be safe to mingle together.”

Xolani and Phindiwe Matabeni with their children, from left, Phuyolo, Olothando, Ovayo and Akhana.
HAPPY FAMILY Xolani and Phindiwe Matabeni with their children, from left, Phuyolo, Olothando, Ovayo and Akhana.
Image: Esa Alexander

Xolani Matabeni, his wife Phindiwe and their four children will also soon be heading home to Alice, Eastern Cape, from Cape Town after cancelling last year’s festive trip.

“We usually have huge Christmas lunches at home, and this year we intend having a feast,” said Matabeni. “Last year’s Christmas was OK as we gathered with friends and made it work under those circumstances, but it was not ideal. We felt that void of not having family around.

“We couldn’t live with the guilt of possibly infecting our parents with the Covid-19, but this year the situation looks a lot better. There are traditional ceremonies that we will possibly attend, which we had to cancel a year ago”.

Psychologist Dr Saths Cooper said after “depressive and almost non-existent” Christmas celebrations a year ago, this year’s festivities would not be back to normal.

IN NUMBERS

27m: Vaccine doses administered

15m: People fully vaccinated

38%: Adult population fully vaccinated

“Everybody is looking forward to a break. I think there is huge physical fatigue but more so psychological fatigue. Human beings are social beings and want that human interaction, but people are likely to be more restrained,” he said.

“I think people are going to be very cautious. I don’t think that it’s going to be normal Christmas celebrations as we know them.

“I don’t think that there is anybody in this country who can say, ‘I don’t know anybody who has not been infected and ill with Covid-19 or probably died.’ So that sort of greyness is going to be there, even while we cherish the joyous moment of the end of the year.”

Shifra Jacobson, co-ordinator of the Counselling Hub in Cape Town, said this Christmas would be emotionally charged for many families.

“There have been so many losses of life during the pandemic that people might be celebrating without that special family member. So there may be feeling of loss, grief and remembrance,” she said.

“I would suggest family members people share memories or have a memory box, and just enjoy that they once had a wonderful time with that family member.”

Reunions might also be overwhelming too. “Coming together after such a long time can be overwhelmingly joyous. It could be a fantastic experience, but because of the underlying disruption of a pandemic, we don’t always know what we are up against.

“There may be the expression of emotions such as joy and crying, which is good, for families that had been through conflict, coming together may also bring about negative feelings.”


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