STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
2020 is behind us. The pandemic is not. But even without seeing each other in person, we can stay connected. NPR's Rhitu Chatterjee reports that one family found a way.
RHITU CHATTERJEE, BYLINE: Back in June of last year, Vladimir Celestin's 95-year-old grandmother had some mild seizures. The family was worried she might have COVID-19.
VLADIMIR CELESTIN: The idea of anything happening to grandma, and - so we were very scared.
CHATTERJEE: Thankfully, she tested negative and got better. Celestin is Haitian American and lives in Baltimore. He says his grandmother, who lives with his parents in Long Island, N.Y., is at the core of not just his immediate family - his parents, his two sisters - but also his extended family - his aunts, uncles and cousins.
V CELESTIN: They heavily weigh in on the ability of my grandmother to be that spiritual rock for us when times are difficult.
CHATTERJEE: And so after her health scare, they decided they would check in on her and each other more often. When they realized they couldn't visit her for Christmas because of the pandemic, they decided to make a virtual present for her. They put together old family photos of all of her descendants.
V CELESTIN: All of her children and all of her grandchildren, her great-grandchildren also.
CHATTERJEE: The photos also told the story of the family's journey from Haiti to New York and then to different cities in eastern United States and Canada. One of his cousins in Canada put the photos together in a slideshow. On Christmas Day, they got together on a Zoom call and presented it to Grandma.
FRANCOISE RAPHAEL: (Speaking Creole).
CHATTERJEE: That's Celestin's grandmother, Francoise Raphael (ph), speaking in Creole. Her daughter, Josie Celestin, translates.
JOSIE CELESTIN: She said she was so happy. She feels a joy in her heart that she's never felt before. She almost start crying, she said (laughter).
CHATTERJEE: Josie says her mother spent hours laughing and talking to everyone. As for her son Vladimir Celestin, he says the whole experience made him feel closer to his family.
V CELESTIN: It was almost like we were learning each other all over again.
CHATTERJEE: Because the old photos brought up family stories and some that he had never heard before, like the time when his mom and aunt were teenagers back in Haiti and their pet parrot got them into trouble.
V CELESTIN: At the time, my Aunt Gladys (ph) - she liked going out often, you know, going out to parties, going out to hang out with friends.
CHATTERJEE: One day, when his great-aunt was watching over his mom and her two sisters, his Aunt Gladys decided she'd sneak out in the evening. Her sisters didn't like the idea and kept warning her not to go out because Auntie would catch her. But Gladys was determined.
V CELESTIN: She gets dressed. She starts making her way out the door. But they completely forget that the bird was obviously hearing this throughout the day. So it decides at this point to start shouting, don't go out. Don't go out. Your aunt's going to catch you. Your aunt's going to catch you.
CHATTERJEE: Which of course, woke their aunt up, and Gladys was in trouble. Celestin says that the virtual family gathering felt more meaningful than many past in-person get-togethers.
V CELESTIN: I think it was understanding that this could have all been lost and really being grateful for the moment that you can recognize this is not just another Zoom call. This is deeper. This is spiritual, in a way.
CHATTERJEE: He says it's ironic that it took a global pandemic to make this possible. Rhitu Chatterjee, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF SHIGETO'S "A CHILD'S MIND")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.