How disagreements about COVID-19 have driven families, friends apart

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As Kristin Quinney cradled the body of the son she had lost to a miscarriage, her pain was magnified by the knowledge that she couldn’t tell her family.

“I didn’t think I could take hearing that I killed my child by getting vaccinated, which is what I thought that they would say,” the 38-year-old from Martensville, Sask., said through tears.

By that time in September 2021, her relationships with her mother and especially her brother had already been estranged by the pandemic, particularly vaccination, Quinney said.

“I was really, really scared about their reactions and what they would say to me. I couldn’t handle [it]. I mean, you’re already feeling gutted.”

Quinney, who already has two daughters, doesn’t believe the COVID-19 vaccines had anything to do with her losing her son. She said miscarriages have been around throughout human history.

“But we don’t talk about it very much.”

Kristin Quinney lives in Martensville, Sask. She says disagreements about COVID-19 have negatively affected the relationships with her mother and brother. (Provided by Kristin Quinney)

1 in 3 people say they reduced contact with someone over past year: survey

A recent survey by the Canadian Hub for Applied and Social Research (CHASR) at the University of Saskatchewan in partnership with CBC Saskatchewan found that more than 31 per cent of respondents had reduced contact with a friend or family member over the past year because of differing views or opinions.

Almost 94 per cent of those who had reduced contact said the split was caused by opinions about COVID-19.

Quinney said the relationship with her brother already had cracks prior to the pandemic due to different political opinions.

Last spring, when things got worse because of COVID-19, she unfriended her brother on Facebook and blocked his phone number.

“I don’t get to talk to my baby brother anymore because he couldn’t agree that it was OK for us to have opposing views,” she said.

Unexpectedly, the relationship between Quinney and her mother also started to get more complicated. The two women still have contact, but it is not the same anymore, said Quinney.

Even her two daughters know they should avoid the topic at grandma’s house, she said.

“I’m very careful what I say and careful with my words. You know, you’re always kind of walking on eggshells.”

Quinney is “incredibly sad” about how these relationships have eroded.

The world is not black and white, says Sask. mother of four

To save the relationship with her son, Linda Osachoff had to acknowledge that the world is not black and white, and that people are not simply good or bad.

The 71-year-old said she raised her four children to become inquisitive and questioning.

When COVID-19 hit the province, Osachoff was surprised to find one of her sons having a very different point of view than her about the pandemic.

“This came as a shock,” she said.

Osachoff lives with her husband on a farm in east central Saskatchewan, near the town of Canora.

Seeing the family drifting apart was an unexpected burden. Osachoff and her four children never fully cut each other off, but they did have to take a step back.

“We all took a pause to determine, first of all, whether or not this relationship was worth saving and whether or not there was a will on both sides to make that happen,” she said.

“Then began a series of very dynamic discussions.”

Osachoff tried to set aside her emotions toward her son, who she believed had turned against the way she raised him.

Linda Osachoff and her husband Alfredo Converso live in east central Saskatchewan, near the town of Canora. (Provided by Linda Osachoff)

This feeling is not unusual these days, according to Sarah Knudson, an associate professor of sociology at St. Thomas More College at the University of Saskatchewan.

People might be surprised, disappointed and confused when someone in their close circle disagrees with them on topics related to the pandemic, she said.

“Most people don’t like dealing with conflict,” said Knudson.

There is also a lot more pressure in society to not ditch a family member, she said.

“Whether it’s fair or not, other people are going to look way more harshly on the fact that you’re estranged from your own parent or child or closer family member.”

Process of reconciliation

Osachoff said she had to ask herself where her son was coming from and why. Eventually the two agreed that their relationship was based on a very strong foundation.

“That’s where the hard work really began,” she said.

Mother and son agreed to some ground rules in their discussion. For example, it was important that each of them would feel safe in expressing their opinions. Even though Osachoff found her son’s viewpoints disagreeable, she tried to listen with open ears.

Osachoff acknowledges that things are still not perfect and might not be for some time.

“Our relationships are stable,” she said. “I think deep down, we’ve all made a commitment that we’re not going to write each other off.”

Many relationships in Canada have been affected by disagreements over the pandemic and how it should be handled.

In comparison to other global issues, COVID-19 is “in our face all the time,” said Knudson.

“You can still go to the liquor store without confronting a climate change type policy, or at least not in an obvious way,” she said.

“We’re really at a point where we just can’t escape [COVID-19].”

Band breaks up over vaccine disagreement

It is not only families that have been drifting apart because of disagreements about the pandemic. Terri Bear Linklater experienced this first hand.

The elementary school teacher and musician is from Muskoday First Nation — just over 20 kilometres southeast of the city of Prince Albert — but has lived in Saskatoon since she was a little girl.

Bear Linklater has lost people to COVID-19 and remains strong in her stance about how she wants to navigate the pandemic.

“I don’t try to get into big debates about it,” she said. “In fact, I just try to leave the conversations, like I don’t want to talk about it.”

Terri Bear Linklater is from Muskoday First Nation near Prince Albert. The teacher and musician has been living in Saskatoon most of her life. (Terri Bear Linklater)

However, the topic brought an end to a very important project in her life.

As a musician, Bear Linklater has been involved with different bands over the years, and one of them was really starting to gain momentum, she said. The rock band formed in 2019, had since performed at events like Taste of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon and was starting to work on an album.

“Our songs were being played and people were wanting to hire us for gigs,” said the musician.

“I thought we were doing really good stuff.”

Things were going well until the group needed to find a new drummer. Bear Linklater said one person in the band was comfortable getting an unvaccinated musician on board while the others were not.

“That became a big problem and a big argument,” she said.

Nobody was willing to budge on their stances and the band broke up.

Losing the group had a big effect on her.

“When you get into a band with people, you develop the relationships and then along with that, you know, you’re developing your sound,” she said.

“All that went out the window in a matter of hours.”

The breakup though will not stop Bear Linklater from doing what she loves – making music.

“I’ve always been a really positive person, happy-go-lucky,” she said. “And I will continue to be this way.”

‘You only get one set of parents’: Quinney

Quinney, who disconnected with her brother about a year and a half ago, said their relationship has slightly improved.

They saw each other over the holidays and Quinney has unblocked his phone number, but she is still very guarded when they are together.

The connection with her mother was particularly strained after Quinney lost her son in the miscarriage. However, mother and daughter have moved through it since then, she said.

“Those are feelings that will never go away for me,” said Quinney. “I’ll never forget.”

Quinney acknowledged that her mother is a good person and that the divisiveness has taken a toll on everyone.

Now she is just hoping to get some normalcy back in their relationship.

“You only get one set of parents,” said Quinney. “And I love them.”

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