Life after the vaccine.

Even after vaccination, we still have to be careful and wear masks and socially distance. But once family members all get their shots, reunions are a beautiful end to a year of isolation and longing.

For Yuliana Arroyo, who works at a testing site, the vaccine went in and so did a dose of relief.

“For these past 11 months of the pandemic, it’s been overwhelming trying to protect my family myself keep everyone safe around me,” Arroyo said.

Jill Georgen is a physician’s assistant at Innovative Express Care and is face-to-face with potential Covid patients each day. But it’s her family she keeps at a distance. 

“The last time I saw them was outside,” she said. “We actually had Thanksgiving outside which was really cold. I think it was like 35 degrees. But we all sat outside six feet apart-plus so we could see each other safely.”

The next gathering should have been her wedding last December.

“It’s a hard decision and so many people are going through it right now,” Georgen said. “But at the end of the day you want to celebrate. But you want to do it safely. So we’re sad and a little disappointed but it was the right choice.”

Now, with her second dose down she said is looking forward to seeing her family – including her 96-year-old grandmother – at her rescheduled nuptials in July.

“I think I’m just going to cry,” she said. “I’ll be so excited to see everyone. Our family, we love big and this year has been hard. … But when we get to hug each other that will be a big day.”

Since Day One of the pandemic, Dr. Ernie Wang has been caring for patients in the emergency room at NorthShore University HealthSystem.

“I started as the chief of emergency medicine and then I became I think chief morale officer for our organization in terms of trying to keep everyone and keep spirits up,” he said.

But it was his mom’s emotional state that worried him the most.

“She’s been alone since March of last year,” he said.

He’s kept in touch virtually.

“It’s been incredibly hard,” he said. “It’s been difficult to watch her be alone. We would FaceTime a lot but … it really weighed on me.”

Then, in December, he one step closer to going home and got the first dose of vaccine.

2,000 miles away, 81-year-old Bonnie Wang waited patiently for her son to visit again.

“I spent my childhood in San Jose,” Ernie Wang said. “My mom still lives in the same house I grew up in.”

After one year of separation and on his way to drop off his daughter at college, mother and son reunited.

“It was everything. It was something I’ve been hoping for a year since we started this,” he said. “And there were times when we thought maybe we’ll never see each other again in person.”

“It’s wonderful to see him and look at him in person. That’s a wonderful thing,” Bonnie Wang said.

“You can’t substitute a face-to-face encounter to be together that feeling is really important,” Ernie Wang said. ”I value it so much more now.”

Appreciation has been the one gift of pandemic many hope lasts as life gets back to normal.