Last year, our best friends moved a thousand miles away (989 to be exact). While happy for them, we were heartbroken for us. We knew staying close across several states would be no easy task.

We had to get used to the idea of less Saturday night dinners, kids screaming and running underfoot. No longer would we see each other at least twice a week. Or make quick Target runs for the girls, impromptu hunting trips for the guys.

Without our friends (ever heard the term “framily”?), life would look vastly different. Despite plans to see each other less than two months later, we grieved the loss of our friends’ nearness.

Staying close from a distance

Now, thanks to a pandemic and nationwide shutdown, all our friendships feel long distance.

A recent survey asked readers what they thought should be prioritized when society slowly begins to reopen. Half of all respondents said their top priority was gathering at a friend’s house.

I think we can all feel that. The loss of meeting with old friends, small groups from church, or even extended family has been hard. Even for introverts like me.

I miss the connection of face-to-face adult conversation and lunches with friends. I miss hugging my mom and sitting on the patio with my dad. And while I know our separation isn’t permanent, it can feel like that at times.

Staying close when you can’t be physically together isn’t easy. And takes a bit of creativity at times. But when we can grab a coffee with our friends again, it will make that reunion a little easier.

Here are four tips to help as you continue maintaining friendships from a distance.

1. Make time for connection.

I’m the worst when it comes to making time for the little things. If I don’t pencil it in the calendar, I’ll likely never get to it. And sadly, as a busy working (from home for now) mom, I often forget to make time for people as I should.

So if you’re like me, daily or weekly pencil in some way to connect with a friend on your calendar or to-do list.

Last week, I was invited to a video chat with a friend. A super social girl, she invited a group of us to get together virtually for coffee after our kids were in bed. She even organized it a few days out so we could adjust schedules (i.e., bedtimes) to be able to participate.

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2. Check in often.

I’ve never been more thankful for technology. My daughter is currently working with her grandparents to set up video chats. My son Facetimes with his best friend (the 989-mile away one) daily—they even play with Legos together.

There are numerous ways beyond the traditional phone call with which we can check in on our friends. Even if I don’t have time for a call, a quick text—How you doin’?—can let a friend know I care. Maintaining friendships thrives on connection—be it honking as you drive by their house, a short text, or a two-hour phone call.

Yesterday, I received a letter on pretty stationery in the mail. Opening the small envelope from my friend made me feel closer to her even without hearing her voice.

3. Share life moments together.

Next week, the kids and I are taking part in a “parade” for a sweet friend’s birthday. Another friend asked if people would send her little boy birthday cards last week since his party plans were canceled.

You don’t have to be in close proximity to celebrate life together. Friend having a baby? Send a cute onesie in the mail. Attend the online graduations and drop a card in the mail for seniors. I just read where a friend propped a computer up in the center of her dining room table so she could “have dinner” with a friend who was lonely.

Just because life looks different, doesn’t mean it’s put on hold.

But some life moments are hard. I think we’ve all felt that on some level right now. If you or someone you know are grieving, FamilyLife’s put together a free resource to come alongside you for that. Sign up here for “Grieving From a Distance.”

4. Make plans for the future.

One of the toughest things for our family has been changing plans. Close friends were coming for a visit during spring break. Canceled.

A planned week of visiting our friends’ new hometown and just catching up. Postponed indefinitely.

Disappointment is hard. But it isn’t forever (although during that first week of homeschooling I wasn’t so sure).

Make the plans, but hold off on setting specific dates. Order some crazy-themed paper plates to celebrate with cake when social distancing restrictions are lifted. Make a list of summer activities you’d like to do as a group. On the next video chat, agree on the first coffee shop you’ll hit up when this is over. Or pick a favorite camping spot together and be ready to reserve your spots. That boat’s gotta come out of storage sometime, right?

Staying close for now won’t look the same as before

At our friends’ going-away party, we laughed over memories and cried a little, too (OK, a lot). While we all made promises that this wouldn’t affect our friendship, we all knew it would. It wouldn’t look the same as it did when they were a 10-minute drive away.

Friendship looks different when you can no longer meet for coffee, sit around the table for a meal, or schedule a weekend away together. But it’s still friendship. So we all probably needed to change our expectations of what we thought that should look like.

Above the cupcakes at the party, we hung a map of the U.S., marking our friends’ new and old hometowns with little heart stickers. Above the hearts it read, “Distance means so little, when someone means so much.”

And you know what? It’s true.

Copyright © 2020 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

Lisa Lakey is a writer and editor for FamilyLife. Before joining the ministry in 2017, she was a freelance writer covering parenting and Southern culture. She and her husband, Josh, have been married since 2004. Lisa and Josh live in Benton, Arkansas, with their two children, Ella and Max.