Long-Distance Love

How to stay in touch with faraway family

W
hen Denise LeCroy's great-grandparents emigrated from Austria to America with their two young sons in the early 1900s, they bid a tearful farewell to their families, knowing they would probably never see each other again. And they were right. Moving far away meant goodbye for many families—but things have changed dramatically since then.

Today, plenty of Lowcountry families find ways to keep in touch across long distances. From Facetime to old-fashioned letter writing, putting in a little time and effort can lead to meaningful connections—even from miles away. We talked to several locals and expats who are connecting in new and creative ways.

LeCroy, a former Berkeley County resident, now lives in London. Her children and grandchildren are scattered throughout five times zones from South Carolina to Alaska to Colorado. But she's found plenty of ways to maintain a full, loving relationship with her family from across the pond.

“My favorite way is through the postcards I send to each of my grandsons in Moncks Corner,” she says. “Before I moved to England, I bought a large photo album for each of the boys, and at every place I visit—whether here in the UK or when I travel abroad—I buy a postcard to send to them. I write some interesting fact or story about the place on the postcard ... It's a learning experience for me and for them!”

She also uses more modern methods to stay in touch, including video chatting—the kids like to use an iPad so they can move around while they're talking. “My grandsons will Facetime me on their mom's iPad and they can carry it into their bedroom to show me their latest trophies, school awards, etc.”

She's even attended special events virtually. “My oldest daughter Jennifer just received her MBA from Carolina. My son attended her graduation and I was able to virtually watch the ceremony in real-time via Facebook, thanks to his pics and status updates.”

Like LeCroy, Julia Nash is another former Charleston resident now based overseas. She moved with her husband Michael and two young daughters to Stuttgart, Germany in December. Although her family is enjoying the European adventure, Nash says they probably wouldn't have moved so far away a few years ago. “I think about that all the time,” Nash says. “I wouldn't have considered making a move overseas 20 years ago when you couldn't just open the laptop and see your parents or grandparents.” Her favorite way to stay in touch is a smart phone app called Voxer, which allows her to text and send photos to loved ones without expensive international rates. A walkie-talkie feature even lets her talk to friends and family back home in real time.

Nash maintains a blog to update family and friends on their life in Germany, and she works hard to keep up to date on their lives as well—especially for her kids' sake. “It's important with kids that are 2 and 3, like mine, to continually mention family members,” she says. “Not only does it remind them of a connection to extended family, but whenever you have a Skype date with a family member, the kids don't think of that person as a stranger.”

Another challenge of communicating with toddlers? They don't always behave as expected. “It's not easy with a 2- and 3-year-old! I may want them to sing songs or say some of the words they've learned in a foreign language, but they aren't trained seals,” Nash says. “They may just want to run around and you have to let them, 'cause that's who they are right now, so that's what the family back home should get to see.”

Goose Creek resident Maquel Russon also has two young daughters, and she relies on photo albums to familiarize her children with their relatives in Utah. “Keeping our kids familiar with the family back home is really important, especially as young as our girls are,” she says. “Our oldest was born just before her uncle was on a two-year trip to Mozambique, Africa. She didn't get the chance to get as familiar with him as a baby, but my mother in-law actually sent us an inexpensive photo album containing pictures of their family and ours that was just for her. It really paid off because when we went back for Christmas, she was able to walk right up to her uncle that had been in Africa and knew his name and gave him a hug.”

Unlike Nash and Russon, Summerville resident Cathy Jacobs' three children are all grown up, but they're spread out between Mt. Pleasant, Korea, and Africa. Her favorite way to communicate is via Facetime. “My son in Korea walks me down the street,” she says. “I can see the grocery store where he goes, the subway station, even some of the children that he teaches.”

But she says that some occasions, like birthdays and holidays, are deserving of more old-fashioned methods of communication. “I firmly believe in the old-fashioned art of letter writing,” she says. “I try to be very intentional and take time to put thoughts on paper. Usually that's more of an affirming-of-who-they-are type of thing as opposed to online discussions.”

“I think it's especially important to put on paper your thoughts for them to have in hand,” she adds. “Whether they read it once and throw it away or keep it and look at it from time to time, it's their choice. I think it's extremely important as a parent, even though they're grown children, to speak affirming words into their life, and that's what the letter-writing does. Texting, phone calls are a day-to-day sort of thing. To stay connected on a deeper level, the letter writing is huge.”

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