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Couple 'over the moon' to be reunited after two years

COVID kept pair apart, on opposite sides of the world, for 672 days.
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St. Albert couple Gretzie Parth and Mark Warawa were seperated for 672 days due to COVID-19 and were finally able to reunite in December after nearly two years apart. Their reunion felt like their first date all over again, the couple said, with plenty of excitement and butterflies.

ST. ALBERT – When high-school sweethearts Gretzie Parth and Mark Warawa saw each other in February 2020 they didn’t’ realize the pandemic would soon keep them apart for nearly two years.

Warawa, who is in dental school in Australia, was two years into his five-year program when he and fiancé Parth parted ways early in 2020. The pair expected to do long distance for the five-year program, as Parth is a business owner in St. Albert. 

The duo had planned for frequent visits to see each other, but the pandemic drastically altered those plans, especially when Australia closed its borders to almost all travel to the country. The couple didn’t know when they would see each other again.

“For me it was almost hopeless,” Warawa said.

“There was no realistic solution to anything, so I just felt drained.”

Parth and Warawa had started dating just before their high-school graduation and spent several years together before they were separated almost two years ago. 

They are now 26, and in December they finally got to see each other after 672 days of separation.

“It was emotional and exciting,” Warawa said of their reunion.

When the duo last saw each other in February 2020, Warawa had returned to St. Albert during a break from school, right before the pandemic hit.

As Warawa sat on the flight back to Australia in 2020, a girl who sat beside him was wearing a mask, which he thought was a bit odd at the time. A week later, the world was turned upside down.

“Within that week, Australia … closed its border indefinitely to everyone,” Warawa said. Parth said even state borders within Australia were closed, effectively restricting travel within the country, too.

At first, the couple thought a few months would pass and Australia would open its borders again. Warawa had planned to return to Canada for his break from school in July 2020. When that didn’t happen, the couple set their sights on a Christmas reunion later that year.

“Getting to December [2020] there was no even hope that there would be any travel,” Warawa said.

Warawa was in Australia on a student visa, which made their separation more complicated, because while he could have flown into Canada to reunite with Parth and his family, there was no certainty he would be able to get back into Australia to continue his studies.

Parth said the first year was a manageable separation, with both of them busy with work and school. They had expected to have a long-distance relationship. The dramatic social changes the pandemic brought on made that year tolerable, Parth said, because it felt like they weren’t missing out on big experiences together.

“I think that second year, going into it, that’s when it started to really get hard because that’s when you started to see everything moving forward. Businesses were open and we [could] start going to restaurants and hockey games,” Parth said.

“It's kind of hard to be able to just watch everything move forward, and then we felt like we were just still stuck in the same place again.”

While Parth was in St. Albert with her friends and family and running her own businesses, Warawa felt alone in Australia. The student made friends there, but celebrating Christmas alone and passing special occasions, such as his birthday, made him miss his life in St. Albert.

“I just like being around family and close friends,” Warawa said.

“That was hard,” Parth said.

As the time passed, with Warawa stuck in Australia, Parth started to use her social media community to try to find a way to get down to see her fiancé. As she started her research, she found the possibility for an exemption to the rules through someone online. A shot at the exemption meant hundreds of hours of research and filling out tons of documents to prove they were in a legitimate relationship. They compiled doctors' notes, photo timelines documenting their eight years together, and evidence Parth could afford to travel there.

Parth submitted the paperwork three times and was rejected twice. They never heard back about the third submission.

“I don't think I've ever worked so hard other than when I was in university,” Parth said laughing.

They were crushed by the rejection, but kept searching for a way to be together.

Parth saw on a Facebook group some travellers had success by applying for a working holiday visa, but she was hesitant to apply due to the $500 cost.

She decided to go for it and submitted the paperwork. Two minutes later, an email arrived that said she was approved to travel to Australia, starting on her birthday, Dec. 17, 2021.

“I think it was honestly just a shock. I just I couldn't believe it,” Parth said.

Parth told Warawa the good news and he was excited to have her come down for a visit.

“I was over the moon. I was already planning things to do,” Warawa said.

Despite their enthusiasm, there was still a fear their dream trip to see each other would be dashed by COVID-19.

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” Parth had said.

Slowly Parth made her way across the world, clearing all possible hurdles that could have stopped their reunion, including a positive test result, border closures, and shifting COVID-19 restrictions.

Finally Parth arrived in Australia and left her hotel room after getting the all clear that she was COVID-19 free.

The pair reunited on the street.

“There was no more time for happy tears, even. We were just so excited to just be with each other and in each other’s presence,” Warawa said.

“There were no more tears left,” Parth said.

“We were laughing and just holding hands and hugging and kissing,” Warawa said.

So much time apart meant butterflies when they first saw each other — like their first date all over again.

“We just get such excitement for making a coffee in the morning or making the bed together,” Warawa said.

Warawa said he won't take moments with loved ones for granted, because you never know when you will see them again.

The two said the distance changed the trajectory of their relationship. They now want to spend the next few years making up for the experiences they missed together.

“Because we lost our two years of time, we are not going to be ready to have kids for a long time because we haven't been able to experience everything we have wanted to as a young couple, and it doesn't even mean grand legendary experiences, but just little things,” Parth said.

Parth will be in Australia until mid-February when she will return to her business in St. Albert — for a while — but she plans to go back to Australia to see Warawa again this year, as her visa lasts for the entire year and the couple hopes to take advantage of it.

Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

About the Author: Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Jennifer Henderson is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for Great West Media based in St. Albert, Alta.
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