Naomi Griess made the transition to live at Legacy Square towards the end of 2019/beginning of 2020. Perched in the east wing, she actually lives across the street from her daughter, Anna Sievers. This made for convenient jaunts over to the care center for visits.
As COVID news swirled, Anna remembers walking out the doors of Legacy Square on March 15, 2020, at 6:00 p.m. after visiting her mother. She was informed that the care center would be closing for a couple of weeks to protect the vulnerable, elderly population inside from the virus. “Okay, we can do that for a few weeks,” Anna recalled thinking. Then the weeks didn’t cease. Of course, Henderson Health Care had regulations to follow. With a new virus on the radar, both the knowns and the unknowns led to drastic measures.
A week or two after Anna walked out of that care center visit, the window visits began. Striving with accommodative care for her mom, she would walk across the street so they could see each other’s faces. Since Naomi, currently age 97, has a hard time hearing, Anna would call her on the phone as they peered through the window.
As the weeks marched on, and visitors were still not allowed inside, the window visits took on their own life. Sometimes Anna would carry a stool over to sit by the window for prolonged chats. Other times, it would be a quick conversation to fill her mom in on the day’s agenda like heading to the golf course. Musical instruments also made appearances at visits including an accordion and keyboard. Another visit they enjoyed a traditional family meal together. One particularly exceptional visit was when Naomi’s children and grandchildren all gathered on the sidewalk. A grandson had the idea to connect a wireless speaker as they sang, “You Are My Sunshine,” to her. Even the stretch of this past winter with the subzero temps didn’t keep Anna from venturing over after she had been clearing snow at her house.
For the first six months, there were only a handful of days when Anna did not make it over for a window visit. She even kept a journal to track the times. When each visit would near the end, they would wrap their arms around themselves and signify a hug and a kiss to each other.
Due to the frequency of the visits along the road into Henderson, many community members took notice. They would pull over to add a quick hello to her mother or give a wave. Anna also became recognized in town, even by children, as the lady visiting outside the window.
It was an unmistakable time of hardship for her mom. Some of the especially challenging periods were when the residents were confined to their rooms to mitigate spread. This left Naomi to spend hours upon hours staring out the window. She would keep tabs on her daughter, watch the neighbor’s flowers grow, observe the traffic patterns, and take excitement at those passing by on the sidewalk. But the mental, emotional, social, and spiritual isolation did feel unbearable at times.
The holidays also carried particular angst. When the Christmas season drew near, Naomi’s family decided to send her a letter or gift each day of the month. This included a pillow, blanket, pictures that had been colored, words of encouragement, and trinkets to display in her room.
After an exceedingly long year apart, the day finally arrived to visit in-person again. Anna was able return to Legacy Square a few weeks ago. Her mom was brought down to a room for visitation as she exclaimed, “I can’t believe you are here!” They spent their time with tears and laughs.
The residents can currently have two visits each week with two visitors at each visit. This creates strategic planning for the family. Some of Naomi’s grandchilden were recently able to join the visitation mix, giving her a joyful surprise. Another bonus is that pre-pandemic, Anna would play piano for the residents, and as of recent, she was able to resume that job. Her mother made sure to be there.
When asked how Naomi is doing now, Anna noted, “She still has hard days, but the visits give her something to look forward to. It adds something new and different.” Anna also acknowledged all of the staff who endured the year with the residents. As she journeyed through the past year with her mom, she tried to put herself in the shoes of the residents and their experience, giving her deep empathy for them.
While restrictions loosen and the residents welcome back visitors, the hardships of the past year still weigh heavily. For one local mother and daughter, however, they are enjoying some shared time on the same side of the window.
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