Staying Connected: How to Feel Close When You Live Far Away

By Amber Mabe

The holidays are a special time, often made more special by the loved ones you share them with. Whether your tradition is to celebrate with relatives, friends, or a chosen few who mean the world to you, having to be apart on special days can quickly steal the joy from an otherwise joyous occasion. When my husband and I made the difficult choice to move thousands of miles away from our family and all of our close friends, we knew it was a choice to miss special events like birthdays, Thanksgivings, Christmases, and New Year’s Celebrations. As much as we want to be together with family for each and every milestone, it just is not possible. Work and school obligations, extracurricular commitments, and travel costs and restrictions are a few of the obstacles that keep us from being present the way we were before we moved. So what can we do to nurture connections with family and friends when we cannot physically be together? Here are a few of the things that have made a difference for us.

Virtual Game Night
Much unlike previous generations, we don’t have to wait until we can take a flight in order to see the faces of our loved ones. Thanks to computers, cellphones, and tablets, we can use apps to video chat one on one or in groups. Discovering that we could play certain board games virtually has added a new element of togetherness to our virtual family gatherings. With a little creativity, we adapted games like Balderdash, Pictionary, Scattergories, and even dice-based board games to work with family across thousands of miles and three different time zones. These family game nights are so full of giggles and friendly competition that we almost forget we are not all in the same room.

Old-Fashioned Snail Mail
Text messages and social media are wonderful ways to keep up with family and friends around the world, but it is easy to lose that sense of close connection as you scroll. For my son, discovering the wonder of physical letters has been a joy for him and for the family and friends exchanging letters with him. There is just something special about holding a paper that your loved one had in their hands only days before, reading words that they wrote in their own handwriting. Whether it is a postcard with a picture of something you have recently experienced, or a letter with stickers or pressed flowers inside, having something physical to keep on a desk or the refrigerator makes the sender feel closer than they were before. As an added bonus, including printed pictures is a special way to share moments that are easy to display and to keep for years to come.

Secret Gift Exchange
When it comes to Christmas, one of the things we miss the most is sitting around a big tree together with family, watching them open piles of presents that we have chosen just for them. This year we decided to do a secret gift exchange, using an app designed specifically for that purpose. It was exciting for kids and grownups alike to log in together while on a family group chat and draw names at the same time. The app allows each person to make a wish list or ask their person questions such as “what is your favorite color?” anonymously. Doing gifts this way has allowed us to get to know each other in a more personal way, and each person is putting great care into choosing the perfect gift for their secret partner. It has been a fun change of pace to the stress of buying gifts for dozens of family members and figuring out how to ship them long distances. With online shopping we can send our secret gifts anonymously, and we look forward to Christmas when we all find out who our secret partner was.

These are only a few of the ways our family has discovered to feel closer despite the distance between us. Others include sharing recipes and eating the same foods as we did at family celebrations, keeping traditions alive that remind us of home such as drinking eggnog while decorating the tree or getting new pajamas on Christmas Eve. New technology is being developed all the time to help shorten the distance between loved ones, like matching lamps that change color when one person touches theirs, instant photo sharing frames, and even paired bracelets that react to touch. Perhaps you and your family have found other ways to stay connected. Whether you are separated by a few miles or an ocean, taking time to show your love to the special people in your life is always worth the effort.

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