A Paradise family is looking forward to a reunion after a 7-month pandemic separation

·3 min read
Denise Miller
Denise Miller

For seven months, Denise Miller has faced the same struggles that most parents can relate to: juggling two young kids during a pandemic and getting one of them ready for a markedly different year at school.

More uncommonly, Miller's doing it all with her fiancé stuck on the other side of the country. In fact, neither she nor their children have seen him since March.

The couple were supposed to be married in October, but like much else since COVID-19 reached Newfoundland and Labrador, their plans were cancelled and pushed back for another year.

"We are lucky enough that he provides very well for us, but he has a big sacrifice because of it," Miller said.

"Everybody got bills to pay, and we're lucky that he was able to keep a job, especially in this economy."

Miller said her fiancé, Michael O'Keefe, works as an insulator in Alberta, and though he's not on a rotational schedule he would usually only be gone for about three months before coming home to Paradise for at least a month. But that's in a normal year, said Miller, and 2020 has been anything but.

When schools shut down in March, Miller said, she left her job to be at home with her kids. She said it's been tough at times, especially in the early going, when isolation from others was the initial first-line of defence.

"It really does have a toll on your mental stability, especially when the kids are used to having interactions with others, and then all of a sudden it's just me," she said.

"If we were to have to home-school it I don't think it would have worked. It would have been extremely hard, especially with my three-year-old home as well."

Protecting the family

Miller said it's been tough on O'Keefe, being away from his family for so long and missing birthdays and the first day of school among other family milestones.

"It's so hard on him, and it's not the same with them being on Facetime," she said. "It's not really real."

And with her children — who are three and six years old — she said they know there's a "sickness" in the world that is keeping their dad from coming home.

Denise Miller
Denise Miller

But things are beginning to take a turn.

Miller said the Christmas work shutdown for her fiancé is happening a little earlier this year. His plans are to return to Newfoundland and Labrador on Oct. 29, followed by isolating at the family cabin for two weeks before finally getting to return home after what will be just shy of eight months away from the family.

"The girls, it will be the biggest thing for them to see their dad. For sure," said Miller. "[We'll] probably just have a family dinner — being able to sit down and see each other face-to-face, which will be nice."

Miller said being able to get back into a routine will be nice as well, but the sacrifice of her future husband remaining at work over the course of the pandemic isn't lost on her.

Isolating for two weeks on both sides of a round-trip journey home would mean losing a lot of time at work, said Miller of her fiance's reason to stay put.

The couple also decided on the arrangement to avoid bringing home a potential infection from Alberta, which has seen several outbreaks in recent months.

"It's for protecting our family, and I'm all for it. He's all for it as well," she said.

"He's a fantastic provider for our family. He's very selfless. I don't know many that would go eight straight months."

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