Mother’s Day window visit brightens spirits for 97-year-old in care home

Mary Thistle, 97, visits with her children through the window at the retirement home where she lives. Long-term care centres have been closed to visitors since March 23, to stop the spread of COVID-19. (Submitted by Loralee Wettlaufer)

Linda Bartlett paid her 97-year-old mother Mary Thistle a visit this Mother’s Day, but the two were separated by a window at the Cambridge Estates retirement home in St. John’s.

Just a few centimetres of glass kept them apart, but potentially protected both from the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

Visitors have been banned from long-term care centres in the province since March 23 to stop the spread of COVID-19, as the virus has killed thousands of residents in other parts of the country.

There’s been one confirmed case of COVID-19 in a long term care facility in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Window visits were also off limits for about a week in the Eastern Health region, until the health authority was able to lift the restrictions Thursday by adjusting its guidelines.

Still, Mary Thistle said it felt good to visit with her children — even if it’s through a window.

“Because you know they’re alive and they’re well,” said the 97-year-old.

But Bartlett, who is pleased to see her mother, said this Mother’s Day hasn’t been easy. 

“It’s not the same thing at all. Not being able to hug her. You couldn’t hug her today, give her a kiss, you know, and really feel her and get her to open her gifts in front of us,” she said

“That was sad.”

Visitors have been banned from entering long-term care homes since March 23 to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Linda Bartlett is visiting her mother through the window for Mother’s Day. (Submitted by Loralee Wettlaufer)

On a normal Mother’s Day, Bartlett would take her mother out for lunch.

“We take her to Smitty’s, one of our favourite restaurants, and we have lunch together and chit chat and then bring her back to the home, and she would open her gifts,” she said.

Instead, Bartlett dropped off gifts to the retirement home on Thursday once Eastern Health allowed homes to start accepting them.

Loralee Wettlaufer, executive director of Cambridge Estates, said gifts have been a big lift for residents this Mother’s Day.

“Lots of smiles and giggles and a few tears of joy,” she said.

Seeing each other is huge, and has really made this process much easier for people.– Loralee Wettlaufer

Wettlaufer said residents, like Mary Thistle, really felt the effects of no family visits when January’s historic blizzard shut down the city for more than a week.

“It was really hard on them,” said Wettlaufer. 

“Having the window visits, they can’t touch each other, but seeing each other is huge, and has really made this process much easier for people.”

Bartlett has been visiting her mom through the window when she could, something easing the pain of physical distancing. 

“We could still get to see her, and how she looks, and how she’s feeling,” said Bartlett.

A game changer

For families who can’t visit at the window, Wettlaufer calls video conferencing a game changer. 

“For some of them, it’s as good as having them here,” she said. “They’re a little more relaxed. They feel connected.”

Wettlaufer said staff set up iPads using Zoom, FaceTime or Facebook Video for the residents to see their families. 

She also said many residents were freaked out by the technology at first, but they’ve adapted.

“By the end, [they] are chatting away and laughing, and just really enjoy that feeling like somebody is in the room,” she said.

Meanwhile, Mary Thistle doesn’t mind visiting family through the window.

She said it’s better than not seeing them at all.

“I consider myself a lucky person,” she said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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