The COVID-19 pandemic is hurting us all. To date, more than 14,000 thousand people have lost their lives in the United States alone, leaving families immersed in grief and despair. Thankfully, many others have won their battles, or escaped affliction altogether.
The most painful part for me is watching my mother endure the crisis in assisted living. This isn’t an insult to assisted living facilities. Most are taking great strides to keep our parents and grandparents safe. But that doesn’t make it much easier.
Today, April 9, my mom, Sigrun Hovland, turned 86. I won’t be celebrating with her. To protect residents from this dangerous coronavirus, many assisted living facilities are not, under typical circumstances, allowing visitors.
Thrive at Jones Farm, where my mother lives, is among those following Centers for Disease Control guidelines. The CDC also advises against communal dining and group activities. The protection comes at a price.
Being alone can be hard. Even the most hard-core introverts may long for a little human interaction after a few weeks of quarantine. I imagine it is especially hard on seniors.
My mom has vascular dementia, which seems to have progressed during the pandemic. She also has severe neuropathy and struggles with depression. Her body and mind are weakening. She’s not eating as much as she should, but she is likely hungrier for emotional nourishment than she is physical sustenance.
My mom is five miles down the road, but it feels as if we’re a world apart.
In response, Thrive staffers are creatively trying to connect seniors to loved ones.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to visit Mom, kind of. She was on one side of a large plexiglass wall and I was on the other. My sister and I joked that it was like a jail visit. But her jailer is a cruel, highly contagious virus.
My mom is a hugger. I couldn’t hug her. But I could smile at her, I could laugh with her, and I might have bent the rules a little — “hugging” her feet with mine through the space at the bottom of the barrier.
Mom, like many people her age, have experienced far more difficult and challenging ordeals throughout their lifetimes.
She was a child in Norway during World War II. She might not remember what sports I played in high school, but she vividly recalls her birthday 80 years ago. It was the day Nazis invaded her beloved homeland. “There will be no birthday celebration today, Sigrun,” her mother had told her.
Today, she will get phone calls from friends and family, along with a special birthday meal delivery. Thrive staff will do their part to provide some birthday cheer, as well.
Still, I’m afraid her 86th birthday will feel similar to her 6th. Today’s is clouded by a very different kind of war, but a distressing battle nonetheless.
Of course, this too shall pass. We have recovered as a family, and as a community — locally, nationally and globally — from much worse.
And this birthday celebration isn’t canceled, it’s just postponed.
In June, as long as conditions allow, my siblings, Larry and Heidi, along with my niece, Rachel, will come to Huntsville to wish her a happy birthday in person. Rachel will bring her baby, Audrey MaeLene, and introduce Mom to her first great grandchild.
Hopefully, by then, we’ll all be back at work, at school or summer camps, and at gatherings with friends and family. Hopefully, health care workers will have a reprieve from exhaustive COVID-19 caseloads.
And hopefully, mom will finally get the chance to hold precious Audrey, hugging her great granddaughter with her whole heart.
That, alone, will be worth celebrating.