By Tim Porteus

THIS virus has had a devastating effect on so many people in so many ways. Almost nobody has been untouched by it, although for some it has been more cataclysmic than others. But we are in this together, and it will be together that we pull through it.

One of the real heartbreaking consequences of the lockdown has been the separation of families. Many grandparents now cannot see their grandchildren, or even their own children. Family of people who are ill cannot visit their loved ones. Each story has its own set of circumstances and sadly more is to come before it gets better.

While we do need light-heartedness at this time, it’s also really important to acknowledge people’s struggles. It was with gut-wrenching despair I realised a number of weeks ago that the arrival of Covid-19 in Europe was going to seriously affect so many families, my own included.

I have five children, but my middle child, who is now 10 years old, has for the last eight years shared time between Scotland and Sweden.

She went to school here until she was seven, when she began to attend school in Sweden. It was then that I had to adjust to the painful reality of less time with her, although I was still able to maintain regular time with her in Scotland and of course keep in daily touch.

It’s been an emotional rollercoaster, in which I have stories of me sleeping at airports, travelling through Scandinavian landscape at ungodly hours, and along the way meeting people who have helped and made a real difference. But it’s been worth it as it meant our blended family remained connected and my daughter hasn’t felt divided between two families but rather a full part of both.

We were due to travel to Sweden this Friday and return later, but of course the flights were cancelled a couple of weeks ago. Explaining this to my daughter, and then not being able to say when we would be together was heartbreaking. I felt so helpless, unable to comfort her. We’d all counted down the days and now it seems it may be weeks, even months, before any reunion will be possible.

I know that there will be families in similar or worse situations. My heart goes out to them all. My initial response to my situation was to close down with despair. The idea of not being with my child, for whom I was the equal main carer until recently, feels unbearable. Some friends have said, with good intentions: “At least she’s safe.”

Yes she is, and I give thanks for that. But any loving parent facing long-term enforced separation from their child will understand the grief that such separation creates. It seeps into your being and makes it difficult to get through the day without having really dark moments. I tried to hide my emotions, but my loving and understanding wife knows me too well; yet she too felt helpless.

There are moments in our lives when we are just overwhelmed by the impossibility of a situation and we just want to curl up and close down. I recently reached that point.

Then my daughter asked me while we were talking online: “I wish we could get a magic flying carpet or something dad, or ask the faeries to make a portal.” She understood this wasn’t possible, but it was the wake-up call I needed. It made me realise I needed to get out of the pit of despair and, for her sake as well as mine, use my creativity to make that magic carpet, and that portal, to help us stay closely connected during this awful time.

And the magic ingredient is stories. My daughter has always loved stories, and we have made many up together; some of them have even been printed on this page. Now these stories help keep us connected and ease the pain of separation for us both.

And so, with the help of technology, and, crucially, a good relationship with her mother, stories have begun to create a vital space for my daughter to be with her Scottish family, even when separated. We can all be together, even my grown-up daughters, who I miss even though they are isolating close by.

We storytell to each other, make stories up and even share them in short films. Wee sister Skye, who is six and misses her sister like crazy, holds the tablet which she uses to speak to her, so they can be together while I tell stories and share riddles. We draw and add to the stories together, make fun dramas in which we film ourselves on phones acting out stories like Cinderella, and I have learnt to put wee films together which we can then watch together.

Sharing stories like this has given extra meaning to our online communication. It takes us away from just asking “how was your day?” or “what did you do today?” questions that often just seem to emphasise our current disconnection. Later, after this crisis is over, the wee films, the artwork and written stories will be memorabilia of this time; our evidence that we remained close, even when forced apart.

I write about this because I know there are parents and children out there in similarly difficult situations; to say you are not alone in this and let’s be kind to each other and share the ways we keep ourselves connected. I also know others will have discovered better solutions, as I’m no technical wizard.

Children are resilient, often more than their grown-ups are, but we need to help them manage this time emotionally, and when we can’t give them a hug or be physically with them in hard times, an inheritance of stories they can access can be a real support.

I have often been less than enthusiastic about social media in the past, but right now people are discovering in this crisis it has become a lifeline in many ways.

If you, or someone you know, are in a similar situation, please do get in touch. Let’s share our experiences, and understand that while we may be isolating, we are not alone.