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When Riana Rae Brown waved goodbye to her parents at Brisbane airport, as she boarded a flight home to London just after Christmas 2019, she never imagined it would be the last time she saw them for 18 months - and counting.
Speaking about her experience to Tyla, Riana recalls how devastating it is to have experienced such highs and lows without her family by her side.
In a week in which holidays abroad, 'amber list' and 'double vaccinated' are dominating the headlines, Riana - and others who have been separated from their families for the duration of the pandemic - feel frustrated.
It has also emerged this week that the government will allegedly allow thousands of 'football VIPs' to attend the Euro finals - without the need to quarantine upon their arrival into the UK.
It's a decision Riana describes as "heartless".
"You can understand everyone has gone through a difficult time and everyone deserves a holiday - and everyone has their own individual frustrations - but sometimes you do just think, you have no idea what other people have sacrificed," Riana tells Tyla.
"I do consider myself lucky, some people have had to isolate completely on their own - at least I've got Cameron - but I just think it is really sad when people think the hardest thing about this is that they haven't been able to go on holiday.
"Added to that, it's extremely disappointing to hear the government has made an exception for 'VIPs' to attend a football match when so many people are suffering the heartache of not being able to see their loved ones. It feels a very heartless decision when families are still being forced to miss weddings, funerals and other big milestones."
Riana last saw her parents and her younger sister after visiting Australia in 2019. Although originally from the UK, Riana and her family moved to Brisbane nine years ago - where she met Cameron, whose family are from Australia.
Around three years ago, the couple moved back to the UK temporarily, to spend some time in London where Riana's older sister also lives.
The pair planned to get married in May 2020 with all of their family present but of course, the pandemic had other plans.
"When we returned from Australia, Covid was being spoken about a little bit and by February, everything was ramping up," Riana continues.
"Even when lockdown came around we were still hopeful for the wedding in May, but we soon realised it wasn't going to happen. We spoke about postponing until September, but eventually settled on May 2021, just to be on the safe side."
Months passed and the pair continued to plan their dream day, but when cases started to increase in the autumn, Riana and Cameron made a huge decision - they would get married in the UK with just two witnesses present.
"It got to November and things started to get bad again. We knew we didn't want to wait another year. And with the added stress of people coming over from Australia, even if England allowed the wedding, our guests might not be able to get over and that included my parents, all the groomsmen, most of our bridal party and my younger sister," she continues.
"It just felt heartbreaking to put it off another year. It was such a difficult decision to come to but we just didn't want to put our life on hold again and our families gave us their full blessing."
Riana and Cameron were married at Wasing Park in Reading, where they were due to have their original celebration.
"My family were so supportive, and we were able to Zoom them in along with our siblings and grandparents. We wanted them to be a part of it, but still plan on - fingers crossed - doing a bigger celebration next year.
"It was such a lovely and intimate day, we had always planned to get married there and my best friend was a witness as well as my older sister. I try now to think of the positives - we had that time together without any distractions and we can have the big celebration with all the family later on."
Having a wedding day without her family was challenging enough, but just a couple of months later and Riana's grandmother sadly contracted Covid-19 and passed away in February.
"The case numbers were so bad at that time. None of my family could come over for the funeral which was just devastating. I attended and we were able to zoom them in. It was very difficult, I couldn't even hug my granddad," says Riana.
At present, Australia's travel restrictions are very strict, with borders remaining closed to Brits except for in exceptional circumstances.
There are some exceptions, but for many, expensive flights and hotel quarantine restrictions are making travel near to impossible - even in the most heartbreaking circumstances.
"They're being so careful, but it does get to a point where people haven't seen their families for so so long," Riana explains.
She hopes that her family will be able to visit later in the summer, but says the recent pausing of the dubbed 'Freedom Day' in the UK has made her nervous.
"I feel like I'm constantly waiting for another reason why they won't be able to come," she says.
"I never imagined what would be to come when we said goodbye at the airport all those months ago. I've never gone this long without seeing my family."
Featured Image Credit: Riana Rae Brown
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