It was long overdue, the apology phone call. The last time the Frolkis sisters, Talia and Liza, had exchanged any words was July 2019. And that conversation had ended on, well, less than good terms.
Not that Talia, 32, the younger sibling, a biomedical scientist in Madison, Wis., can say exactly what the tiff was about. “Who can remember the specifics?” she said. “There’s always some dramatic thing happening with family. Something was going on in her life and I was as supportive as I could be, and I was exhausted and hoping for some gratitude. When it didn’t come, I got a little snippy and it started a huge fight.”
Nine months swept by with neither one making a move toward reconciliation — the longest the two women had gone without speaking. And then the coronavirus hit, and the tectonic plates shifted in Liza Frolkis’s psyche.
“I missed her,” said Liza, 37, who lives in Milwaukee. “The weirdness of this time let me put aside the pain I was feeling. It gave me some perspective.”
So she picked up the phone, old-school style, called her sister and said: “This world is crazy. It’s ridiculous that I haven’t apologized to you.”
And then, said Talia, “I apologized back to her.”
With more than three million cases of Covid-19 worldwide and over 200,000 deaths, with huge numbers of people coming face to face with their own mortality or the mortality of someone they know, some individuals are excavating their pasts and reaching out to those they once knew and fell out with. Sometimes it’s just to say hi, other times they’re hoping for détente, and other times they want to mend a fence, or at least patch it with duct tape.
“Covid has made us re-evaluate our priorities, and once hard liners are no longer important,” said Pam Gillespie Blanton, 59, of Austin, Texas, who recently spoke with her nephew after a six-year estrangement. “Going back to simpler, basic things. Talking, cooking, learning how to communicate.”
Sometimes they’re clearing their own conscience, like Ginny Roberts, 63, who lives in the Rockaway Beach neighborhood of Queens and who had been harboring serious resentment toward the woman who did the flowers for her wedding 17 years ago.
The roses and dahlias cost Ms. Roberts $3,000, she said, and looked as if they’d been churned in a NutriBullet. The florist, who knew the family socially, had been leaving voice mail messages over the years, but Ms. Roberts avoided them. Finally, she decided the time was right to make amends.
“I don’t want to go to my grave being pissed about flowers, especially when they were for a marriage that isn’t even intact anymore,” Ms. Roberts said. “I’m not sure if she knew I was angry all these years, but I needed to fix it. I feel like I buried the hatchet.” (At least the one she imagined.)
Others feel emboldened to say things they never could before. Abigail P., 45, who works in insurance in Auburn Hills, Mich. — and who asked that her last name not be used because it’s awkward to discuss terrible ex-boyfriends in a newspaper — said she recently had a “vivid” dream about an ex from 20 years ago. The relationship, which lasted about two years, ended “pretty horribly,” leaving her with some major scars.
During an inventory of her romantic past over the last few weeks, though, she realized “that I have fond memories of our time together and that I had forgiven him,” she said.
Abigail reached out to tell him that she was happy that he seemed so happy (thank you, LinkedIn). She said, “Maybe that was more for me than him, but I’m glad I did it.”
She also got a surprise of her own. He wrote back.
“He said some kind things about me,” she said. “Considering how things ended, I’d always assumed he didn’t think that highly of me.”
Jorge Fagundo, a 41-year-old resident of Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico, worried about that too when he contacted Carmen Lis Arcelay after nine years of silence.
About a decade ago, Mr. Fagundo had been severely depressed and was having a hard time keeping a job. So Ms. Arcelay, then his close friend, invited him to stay with her and her husband on the island of St. Thomas for a few weeks.
The few weeks turned into three months, and Ms. Arcelay and her husband were exasperated. “I felt that he wasn’t really contributing to the house,” said Ms. Arcelay, 44, who works at a brewery in Ashburn, Va. “We were driving him everywhere — it became a hassle.”
She asked him to leave, but said he could temporarily move into the home she owned in Puerto Rico. There, he began growing marijuana on the roof. The Arcelays were livid and the friendship was ruined. “My husband works for the government,” she said. “He could have gotten into a lot of trouble.”
About a week and a half ago, Ms. Arcelay received an email from Mr. Fagundo. He had been working up the nerve to contact them, he said, and he understood he betrayed their trust and wanted them to know he was sorry. He left a phone number, and Ms. Arcelay called. They spoke for two hours.
“Everybody makes mistakes,” she said. “We become different people in time. I really appreciated that he understood that what he did was wrong.”
Mr. Fagundo acknowledged in an email that the pandemic influenced his decision to contact his friends, along with a heart attack he suffered about eight months ago that left him in the hospital for 55 days, and in a coma for 22 of them.
“They say that a near-death experience can change who you are,” he wrote. “I don’t know about that, but from my experience what it does is give you time to think and not only think but analyze and question almost everything. I have always been a loner and never thought I needed people at my side until now, and the urge to contact Carmen and Joel was even more significant at this moment.”
This doesn’t surprise those who are familiar with the social psychology of health crises. The end of life — or what could be the end of life, even if not yours — “is when you want to put things to rest and express gratitude to people,” said Margaret Moore, the founder of Wellcoaches, a company that trains professional health care coaches.
“We want to clean things up,” Ms. Moore said. “I think it’s a very good thing if the virus is prompting people to repair old relationships. That’s a sign of deepening the meaning of this.”
Abigail P. also felt a powerful urge to seek repair. “In this case, my choice of closure was allowing myself to forgive him. And he deserved that, even if I never had the chance to tell him directly,” she said, adding that she doesn’t want to reconcile with her ex.
“My intent was not to push my way back into his life,” she said. “It was healing enough just to let him know that I after all these years, I can smile in remembering the good times we shared.”