Dear Carol: It’s almost Father’s Day, and my heart is breaking. My dad is in assisted living and here at least, we still aren’t allowed to be together because of the virus. Many businesses are opening up, but I am isolating as much as possible because I have my own health risks. For that reason, I should be safe as a visitor. Don’t you think that they should make exceptions for those who have isolated?
Part of me understands their caution, but the other part is heartbroken and angry because I know how lonely Dad is. Meeting through video just doesn’t substitute for seeing him in person. — GT.
Dear GT: I’m so sorry. It brings tears to think of how horrible it would have been to not at least see my parents in person for weeks or months. My empathy for you and other caregivers runs deep.
You didn’t say where you were from, but I’m hoping it’s a community that, like mine, has generally good to excellent care homes. Not everyone is so fortunate, which makes this time of COVID-19 even more upsetting.
As of this writing, I’m seeing that some care homes are setting up their patios and lawn areas so that residents can sit outside at a distance from their relatives but still connect in person. I’ll note that Father’s Day or any holiday makes this more challenging because so many families will want to visit on the same day. For that reason, planning will need to be implemented, likely spreading out the "day" over a full week. You could check with your dad’s facility about allowing these visits in a staggered manner requiring appointments.
We need to remember that preventing COVID-19 isn’t only about the death count. While the disease causes no symptoms in a large number of people, it causes terrible suffering for many. No caregiver wants to think that they transmitted a disease in a care home that can cause intense suffering for many and potential death to some.
This enforced separation is, of course, causing overwhelming anxiety for caregivers like you. Perhaps more importantly, it’s also increasing the rate of decline for a large number of older adults. Whether these older adults are at home or in a care facility, they shouldn’t live the rest of their lives without the physical presence of their families.
Having said that, every visit presents a risk that could be deadly. Each facility and each family will need to balance the risk of family members visiting older adults in person against the potential decline of the elder from loneliness. We must then make the best choice possible and live with our choice. If we make these decisions using both reliable information and a loving heart, we can live without guilt no matter the result.
Caregivers have always had to make often painful choices based on the information that we have at the time, and we can only do our best. I’m hoping that you can visit your dad in person, even if it’s from a distance.
Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached through the contact form on her website.