Like a lot of people I know, I wasn’t able to see my parents for more than a year because of the pandemic. They were isolating at their home in rural Indiana, so we respected their decision. Now that they’re vaccinated, as are other members of our family, we were finally able to get together over Memorial Day weekend.

My sister rented a cabin in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, high up in the Great Smoky Mountains. The cabin sleeps 26 people, and my sister invited anyone in the family who wanted to join her to just show up. We were talking on the phone several weeks ago, and I told her I was envious of all the traveling she’d been doing this spring. She asked me simply, “Then why don’t you do it?” It got me thinking, “Why don’t I do it?”

There are always reasons to not do something or tell yourself that you’ll do it another time. But when it comes to staying connected to family, it’s important to seize opportunities to be together while you still can.

I’m lucky that both of my parents are still alive. Many people my age aren’t as fortunate. Too many friends and relatives lost family members over the last year or so — some to COVID-19, and others for different reasons. I don’t take for granted that I can call or text my parents whenever I want to talk to them, and now go visit them too. Going more than a year without seeing them in person was tough, which is why I’m glad we were able to get together, along with a brother, a sister, and their kids, over the holiday weekend.

I read an article on WebMD about the importance of family ties. It said family connections and communication help people feel better physically and mentally, be less likely to feel depressed and be better positioned to get out of depression. Other stories credit strong family ties with everything from enabling kids to be more academically successful to be less likely to use drugs.

There have been a lot of stories about the negative mental health effects caused by shutdowns during the pandemic. It’s not surprising that more isolation equated to a rise in depression. It’s also why I’ve seen so many people celebrating on social media that they were able to reconnect with their parents and families over the last couple months.

The WebMD article also mentioned that as families mature, or grow older, the potential loss of connection or feeling of change is difficult to confront. This is one more reason why taking advantage of opportunities to reunite with family members now is time well spent.

Brett Martin is a guest columnist who’s been a Shakopee resident for over 15 years.