Chatting with a locked-down parent
today at 10:37 am
Many of us likely make lists before important conversations. As a journalist, I would jot down points before interviewing someone to make sure everything important would be covered.
But a list to talk to your mother?
My mother has been in coronavirus lockdown in an assisted living residence for 11 weeks. No visitors, no leaving the premises. My three siblings and I have been communicating with her by phone. We’ve joked about the brevity of the calls. Mom has nothing to report, and under the circumstances our lives are hardly more eventful.
“Mom,” I said about five minutes into a recent call, “don’t think that I don’t want to talk to you, but I can’t come up with anything to say.”
Last Saturday I was supposed to see her for the first time since early March. Nursing staff had been allowing Mom outdoors for the previous couple of weeks. My siblings had seen her outside — six feet away, of course — and I would be the last to go.
Two days before, we were told that corporate management had clamped down on outdoor visits. Mom was crestfallen. I decided to drive down to Plainfield anyway and sit below her window where she could see me from the third floor. We’d talk on the phone while looking at one another from a distance. My brother would join us, he and I sitting in lawn chairs on the ground.
On Friday I had an anxious thought: How would we keep a conversation going for more than 10 minutes? We could sit in companionable silence during a face-to-face visit, but a pause during a phone call is awkward, and she might hang up in confusion.
And so I made a list of topics to bring up. I would ask her about her first session with a physical therapist who comes to her; about how it feels to miss church for the longest time in her life; and about what the friends who called her recently had to say. I would talk about the sympathy cards I received after losing Lizzy, my cat; about searching for someone to install flooring in my bedroom; about seeding lettuce in an EarthBox; and about failing at intermittent fasting.
It was enough for nearly an hour and a half, at which point my brother asked whether Mom’s back was hurting from leaning toward the window. She admitted that it was, so we wished her goodbye. Just before I walked away, I said I hoped we would be able to take her out to eat for her 93rd birthday in five weeks.
Maybe I shouldn’t have raised her hopes, but senior residences are going to have to ease their restrictions sooner or later, and we hope it’s sooner. We’re grateful that Mom’s building has not had any coronavirus cases, but we hope that community residences figure out how to fulfill their sales pitch and make social and emotional needs as important as physical well-being.
The above was already written when I was reading today’s Chicago Tribune and noticed a headline in the opinion section that began, “Isolation must be recognized as a form of elder abuse.” The lead paragraph said, “Elders everywhere sadly find themselves in long-term care protection from their own families. For those in congregate settings such as nursing homes, both the risk of the coronavirus and the experience of isolation are especially acute.”
The piece by Sandy Baksys, who was identified only as a Springfield resident, didn’t go in the direction I expected, but I second the way she opened it.
GRATITUDE TO HAVE A BALCONY NOW
I drafted most of this post in longhand on my balcony Sunday. I wasn’t sure I was still capable of composing without a computer, but the weather was too glorious to be indoors.
How grateful I am to have a balcony as we’re socially distancing. In a 2017 post, I wrote about my surprise that balconies around my neighborhood seemed little used. That’s changing. I’ve noticed more of my neighbors on their balconies than last year. Four of the balconies facing me on the building to the south were occupied while I was scribbling.
In a late May article, Chicago magazine predicted that dwellers in multiunit residences will increasingly desire balconies. If they hadn’t already, people found during coronavirus isolation that balconies are more than places to grill food, Ryan Smith wrote. The “pandemic-proof social space” has been rediscovered as a place to work from home, enjoy fresh air, grow and eat food, and chat with neighbors without anxiety.
As I said in my earlier post, “My balcony is my sanctuary. . . . It doesn’t matter that the balcony is smaller than a yard or a deck; I don’t need a lot of space to sit in a comfortable chair and breathe the fresh air.”
ANTI-TRUMP COMMENTS: 117TH IN AN ONGOING SERIES
“I am outraged. The president did not pray when he came to St. John’s, nor . . . did he acknowledge the agony of our country right now.”
— Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, DC, about the president’s walking from the White House to the church for a photo opportunity after peaceful protestors were forcefully dispersed