A woman talks to her mother on the phone from outside the window of her room in a nursing home.

Lori Herring is writing a lot of letters these days.

They’re often simple compositions, “just pleasantries really,” she said.

But right now, they’re the best way to talk to her mother, who is in a Marshfield nursing home locked down amid the pandemic.

Her mom doesn’t read anymore and isn’t really up to taking calls at this point in her life.

“But I write her every day,” Herring said, “and there are activity ladies who read to her, and if I send enough letters that means she’s getting constant contact every day.”

She’s not alone in her efforts.

With older people among those at highest risk for complications of the novel coronavirus, nursing homes and assisted living facilities across the country have barred visitors to keep residents safe, pushing loved ones to explore new ways to keep in touch.

For some, it’s been as simple as finding a window and making a call to the other side.

That was Debra Appleby’s approach when she greeted her 99-year-old dad at Morningside of Chesterfield Village on Thursday.

They didn’t talk long, but they didn’t need to.

She checked if he needed anything, and he said he was fine for now.

She told him she’d be back to see him both days on Easter weekend, and he said he’d be ready.

“Just seeing my face and talking to me for a minute, just voicing a concern, it brightens his day,” Appleby said. “He doesn’t care if I sit there for 30 minutes, it’s just kind of taking a peek at us.”

Others are doing the same thing with iPads.

D’Ann Kohls holds daily FaceTime calls with her mom in Springfield so she can see how she’s doing all the way from Hollister.

With the help of an aide, her mom even managed to get Words with Friends installed so they can play the Scrabble-like game together.

“I’m so grateful for technology,” she said. “It would be really hard without it.”

Amazon has been a help, too, letting her send a Scrabble dictionary to help with the game.

None of it can quite fill the void of in-person visits without a window or screen in the way, though.

Even though Appleby planned to be back at the window Sunday to see her dad for Easter, she said it would be hard not sharing a meal together.

“I just turned 67, and my whole entire life, we’ve never had a family meal together with my dad not there,” she said. “And that’s really tough to think about.”

Herring, whose mom is in the nursing home in Marshfield, said the separation is even harder on her dad.

“They haven’t been apart since Army camp two weeks in the summer in the 1960s,” she said. “For him to have to be without her is really painful.”

And then there are the fears of something going wrong despite the best efforts of caretakers, especially with hospitals restricting visitors now, too.

“That’s been the scariest part of all of this,” said Kohls, whose mom plays Words with Friends. “The thought of her being sick and not being able to see her is terrifying.”

Caretakers share the dread of becoming the next nursing home to see an outbreak.

“I’ve been doing this for 15 years, and I’m more scared than I’ve ever been in my career,” said Jordan Carroll, the executive director at WebCo Nursing in Marshfield, where Herring’s mom is. “I worry every day at work, I wonder if this is going to be the day that we find out it’s here.”

But a few weeks back, she and her staff got creative and found their own reprieve.

The idea came around 9 p.m. one night: what if there was a way to get her cooped-up residents outside, out from behind their windows and into the sunshine? And then what if they invited people to drive by and say hello?

“It’s been all about what we can’t do,” she said. “‘You can’t have visitors, you can’t have masks, you can’t have PPE, you can’t have that right now.’ So for one hour, we just wanted to choose joy.”

They got everyone masks, drew lines to keep everyone eight feet apart and roped everyone off behind caution signs to watch a veritable parade of people roll past.

Lori Herring said traffic was backed up “beautifully far.”

“It was fabulous, fabulous,” she said later. “People decorated their cars, kids were dressed up and hanging out of them, it was wonderful.”

And her mom?

“She looked good,” Herring said, “Daddy and I went through four times just so we could see her.”


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