A pair of sisters were given an emotional reunion surprise when their military brother photobombed them and answered one’s letter to Santa for him to come home for the holidays.
Siblings Olivia, 9, and Spencer Gillam, 7, are extremely close to their brother Justin Hodgins, 29, a first-class seaman with the Canadian Navy.
Though from Toronto, Ontario, Justin was based in Victoria, British Columbia, on the other side of the country, on Canadian Forces Base Esquimalt.
This distance, combined with travel restrictions of the coronavirus pandemic, meant that Justin had not seen his younger siblings for roughly two and a half years.
To save his siblings the disappointment of not seeing their brother again, Olivia and Spencer’s parents told them that their brother would not be coming home for the holidays this year, either.
But when Justin got the news that such a trip would then be possible, he started working on a surprise with the help of his fellow family members.
The night before the surprise, Olivia had finished writing her letter to Santa for the year, in which she said she wished for her brother to be home for Christmas.
Having collected Justin from the airport, his parents then hid him outside while inside, the girls’ mom, Jill, encouraged the siblings and their older sister Kaylin, who was in on the surprise, to pose for a photo.
As the siblings stood together for the snap, Justin quietly snuck behind the family’s kitchen counter and into the background, making sure he had successfully photobombed the image.
Then, when Olivia and Spencer were shown Jill’s photo, the moment clicked, with the siblings bursting with excitement and darting to share a tearful embrace with their brother.
Though the surprise took place in 2021, Justin’s younger sister Taylor Fisher, 26, opted to share the moment in 2023, ahead of the holidays.
She said: “After my mom showed Olivia and Spencer the photo that she took, Olivia ran around the counter and dropped to her knees when she found my brother hiding behind the counter.
“Spencer was in tears as well but hid behind him most of the video.
“Seeing my sisters’ reaction brought tears to my eyes and everyone else in the room.
“We were so happy our plan turned out exactly the way we wanted the surprise to go, and seeing them genuinely being surprised after being told he was not able to make it home was the most heartwarming experience my family and I have ever had.
“As you can hear in the video, everyone in the room was crying with Olivia because of her emotional reaction.
“The message I hope others take from this story is to appreciate the time you have with your family in the moment.
“Don’t take anything for granted. When it comes to my brother, with COVID-19 shutting down the world for a very long time, he went into a very dark and scary place mentally.
“As he explained to us, knowing that one day he was coming home to us gave him the courage to push through all these years, even when he felt like giving up.
“I feel like it is not talked about enough the mental health toll COVID had on people in the Army and Navy. He is a great example of that.”