QUARANTINE FAMILY PORTRAITS: A PHOTO ESSAY
Words and original film photography by Miranda Pranoto
If 2020 and the still-nascent 2021 have taught me anything, first and foremost, it is that our loved ones are all we have. I have lost my dear uncle, a friend and my grandma. So I kinda know. Even though my 2020 was quite productive, if anyone were to ask me for the highlights, my proudest achievement would be my newfound relationship with my family. In 2020 I completed my sixth semester of university with perfect grades, completed some fifteen paintings and was offered my dream job. I don’t mean to boast, but these three things alone exceeded my personal expectations. To get through 2020 alone is a huge accomplishment for any of us, so these extra things made me feel quite secure. However, my A in Financial Management or the fact that I managed to make some money off of my paintings aren’t what I pat myself on the back for. A small pat, maybe, but what I’m extremely proud of would be how my relationship with my parents, sister and friends have strengthened in a way I never thought possible.
Self-portrait during quarantine
Last year taught us plenty. What it’s taught me specifically is how to have hard conversations with our closest ones and why having them matters. With travel restrictions and the mandatory lockdown, we were unsure of when we’d get to meet our friends and family in person again. All of a sudden, we were doing everything virtually. My friends and I celebrated each other’s birthdays together through Zoom. Google Meet is part of our morning routine now. We play Charades online. Many vital things were taken away from us, like hugs, handshakes and physical touch. Still, those relationships needed tending to.
I’d always considered myself a good communicator. I’d loved writing since a young age and I fell in love with the intimacy of language. Personally, I see verbal communication as the only way to make anything to work. So it surprised me when I learned I was a terrible communicator. Staying at home with my parents and my older sister taught me this. Previously, I’d been living in my uni’s dorm for the past three years, only going home on the weekends. So the last time I saw my family every single day for months was when I was in high school.
I was eighteen then, and knew next to nothing. In the beginning of lockdown I’d just turned twenty one, and knew only a little bit more than my old teen self. Many things had changed for me, and in me. I had a clearer image of who I wanted to be, what I wanted to do, and how I saw the world. Maybe the fact that three years of business school had only made me more passionate about art surprised my parents. That was the unsurprising part. What surprised me was how many things I’d left unsaid for years.
With proximity comes a deeper problem: we are left with only a small room to contain our obliviousness. Suddenly, after nearly two months of staying at home, we became aware of broken things that needed fixing. Besides the broken water pipes and some cracks on the walls that we eventually sealed, the deeper scars in our relationships with one another surfaced.
My mother, sister and father -- shot on holiday before the pandemic.
My grandmother and I on her 90th birthday before the pandemic. I lost her in December of 2020.
My uncle Tommasz and his fiance right after their surprise engagement that took place in front of us. We lost Tommasz in March 2020 and have not gotten the chance to visit his grave in Poland.
Almost a year later now, I can look back and reflect on things that helped me nurture my relationships. Here’s what helped me strengthen my bond with my closest ones:
Learning about my trauma
In January of 2020 I reached one of my lowest points. My emotions were out of control and I didn’t feel like I held a grip on myself. I was so confused and had no answers to why I was feeling so detached, disappointed and hopeless. It took me a while to realise I’d had many traumatic moments in my life that I never addressed. All these years I’ve suppressed my feelings in order to be productive and focus on surviving. But I was doing just that instead of thriving.
I was a ticking time bomb and I exploded. I’m quite happy that I exploded, honestly, because otherwise I would never have had to face the truth that I was hurt and my wounds needed healing. I’d let them fester for far too long. Admitting I have scars is not easy, but it is necessary.
Observe how I respond to trauma/when I’m triggered
I keep a list of pivotal moments that scarred me or caused me to feel a certain way. This made me more conscious of how I respond to certain situations. For example, when I encounter a situation that reminds me of my previous trauma, I immediately detach. This causes rifts in my relationships because I am never able to be fully present if I always distance myself from others when I’m in fear. Realising this made me learn so much about myself.
I started therapy in the middle of 2020 and I can’t recommend it enough. Therapy’s made me accept my past and myself. I learned just how much I need to talk things out to others, even things that make me feel uncomfortable. I am so scared of disappointing anyone to the point of letting others hurt or disappoint me instead. Learning little bits of myself made me realize what my strengths and weaknesses are.
Talk it out with friends and family
I talked to only a handful of friends and family about what I was going through. It’s important for me to have my support system know I was seeking professional help and that I wanted to work on my relationship with them. This meant a lot of hard conversations and asking for forgiveness. I told my best friends things and moments I’ve kept to myself all this time that eventually drove me crazy. I was scared of their reactions at first, but I’m so grateful for the outpour of love and support that I got from them.
Our first lunch outside of the house together with our best friends.
Sitting in silence for at least two hours a day really helped me. Finding peace and quiet in the mornings before I start my day is my way of meditating. Little acts of self-love and time for myself does so much for my relationships with others. To know yourself is to demonstrate courtesy for everyone in your life.
The pandemic has definitely reminded me of my haven; art. Besides going to therapy, painting and photography have kept me sane.
My niece painting with me in my bedroom. In this photograph she’s wearing my painting shirt.
I grew up with very little boundaries in my environment, so realizing that it’s okay to ask for boundaries was a huge step. Again, the initial fear of rejection or just being misunderstood is still there for me, but now I know it’s alright to ask for space and to say what works for me and what doesn’t. In fact, it will only do me and my friends and family good.
At the end of the day, everything can be taken away from us. What stays is only our memories with our loved ones. So I chose to work on what I have. I am grateful and humbled to still be here and to be given the time to work on my relationship with my chosen and/or biological family. Many, it breaks my heart to remember, weren’t even granted the time.
First trip to the supermarket during lockdown. I had never been more excited to go grocery shopping.