Cai Scheidler, 15, takes an evening swim in his grandfather's pool in Altadena, CA. Coming of age is rarely easy, and throughout the pandemic, he and his peers had to grow together from afar during this period of intense social isolation.


Who are you with when the world is quiet?

At once a threat and a comfort, the state of loneliness and the act of searching for connections have become more prevalent than ever in American society. In 2017, the 19th Surgeon General of the United States, Vivek Murthy, labeled loneliness as a growing epidemic amongst the American public. Once the COVID-19 pandemic had arrived and loneliness had become entwined with hopes of shelter, this problem compounded: isolation became forced, and loneliness came in waves.

For many, it was a guarantee for safety: protective, necessary, withstandable. For others, it was a limit to the time they could get with one another. A 2021 study from the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Making Caring Common Project suggests that “1 in 3 Americans face “serious loneliness” during the pandemic, including over 60% of young adults.” However, even when the nation was interpersonally isolated and lonely, there were still moments where connection could be found.

Predominantly photographed in 2021, this work is an examination of family structures amidst solitude; a compilation of the moments of connection that arrive when the nation is at a standstill and societal separation is profoundly overwhelming. Loneliness in America, whether pre-existing or exacerbated by the pandemic, was combated through loving and waiting through times of disconnection; through a bubble of three, a fleeting kiss, or a new year’s company.

Kristina Woldan holds her daughter, Zoë, up to a window at the Los Angeles Zoo on June 10, 2021. Kristina has been caring for her adopted daughters Zoë, who has cystic fibrosis, and Okalani, who has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, since she became their foster mother. Due to their lung conditions, they are categorized as high-risk. Kristina worries that they would be hit hard by COVID-19 were they to catch it, and so has done her best to keep them safe and well-cared for through the hard times posed by the coronavirus pandemic, resulting in them staying in isolation as much as possible.

Sophie Zunk, Rachel Burk, Claire Zunk, and Maya Zunk do handstands in the shallows of Little Traverse Lake in Maple City, Michigan.

Zoë, Okalani, and Kristina eat lunch at the Los Angeles Zoo. They find places away from everyone else so that they can be as safe as possible while eating without masks. Zoë and Okalani rarely spend time with friends and virtually never go to playgrounds. On the rare occasion that happens, it’s an empty playground with masks still on and a change of clothes before getting back in the car. They haven't been able to return to pre-school either, just in case another kid not wearing a mask were to cough in one of their faces.  The fight to protect them is all-encompassing, with Kristina working hard to keep them from having to battle an invisible adversary. "I don't know if they would survive COVID, but I'm trying really hard not to find out," she says.

Two rainbows drawn by her daughters adorn the walls of Kristina's home.

Jordan Mumford, right, and her son, Kyler Ludwig, explore the skatepark at the Athens Community Center in Ohio after spending the evening playing basketball. Mumford is the newest resident of Serenity Grove, a women's addiction recovery center that helps women get the help they need in order to reintegrate into society.  Before the pandemic, her mother had begun to regularly bring her son to Athens to help them spend time together. COVID-19 restrictions later stopped visits to the recovery center itself, necessitating visits elsewhere, alike these. The time at the house and away from their families can be hard for the residents, but the program supports contact between the women and their families as an integral part of their adjustment process.

While on a family trip to Florida, Pat Banks felt a sharp pain in her chest. After speaking with doctors, she was diagnosed with breast cancer due to a contaminated implant, which was later removed. Because the cancer had already spread to her lymph nodes, she was rendered immunocompromised. Her granddaughter, Sara, began living with her in 2020 after also becoming immunocompromised, and learned from her as they weathered the solitude of the pandemic. "You just have to learn to live differently," Pat says. "You have a different standard to go by."

My aunt, Kara Lee Burk, helps my step-cousin Grace Scheidler put her shoes on after a visit to El Matador State Beach in Malibu, California. In the summer of 2021, just over a year into the pandemic, Kara Lee's landlord decided to sell the house she had been renting, and she moved in full-time with her husband, Tim Scheidler. The next few months were a process of blending families for both my aunt and her step-kids as they spent time with one another and slowly reintroduced themselves to the world following the stricter isolation of 2020.

My sister, Emily, says goodbye to my parents before she and I went on her graduation drive in Dunstable, Massachusetts. Her high school had postponed her graduation ceremony for months following her last day of school, and once it finally came, they held a ceremonial drive around the two-town district in place of an in-person gathering. The ceremony itself was distanced and shorter than usual.

Mike and Julie embrace for a portrait in Monrovia, California in May 2021. When Mike was deployed abroad to Okinawa, Japan through the U.S. Air Force, the couple worked hard to overcome the distance through video calls, watching movies together, and playing games online. They were unable to go together as Julie was undocumented with no legal avenue available towards U.S. citizenship. However, they had married in late 2017, and once Julie discussed options with an attorney she found through the Immigration Resource Center of San Gabriel Valley, he was able to make a strong case and get her citizenship approved. In May of 2021, Julie was able to join Mike on his way to Okinawa. They are together during his deployment for the first time.

Marina and Ken share a kiss as they prepare to leave the DMV in Glendale, California. Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the time they have with each other has come even less frequently, as visiting hours have been removed in an attempt to protect the other residents at his halfway-house. For most of the year, some of the only times they get to see each other are these short drives to and from appointments.

In July of 2021, Marina was hired as a translator at the Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles. With this job, she has high hopes of saving enough money to rent her own apartment. This would allow her to bring Kayla home in January of 2022. Until then, she will continue to search for the moments she can spend with her family members from afar.

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