Today (July 24) may not be the first time that South Surrey senior Doris Gage gets to hold her great-grandson Nash, but it will be the first time she does it amongst a crowd of more than two dozen family and friends, as they gather at a Langley park to celebrate his first birthday.
“The day we brought him home she was able to hold him,” Gage’s granddaughter Meghan Mitchell recalled Friday (July 23), of Nash’s mid-pandemic arrival.
“But then there were lulls… sometimes three weeks or a month went by that I didn’t bring him” for visits.
“It’s been quite a year, to say the least.”
Gage, 95, has been living at Amica White Rock since last September, after moving from her White Rock apartment to an independent-living unit six months after the pandemic was declared.
At the time, public-health restrictions meant she went into an immediate two-week isolation period. And after that, months passed where visits were essentially limited to one person and had to be carefully planned. As well, personal protective equipment was an essential part of the equation and pre-pandemic norms such as hugging were off the table, seemingly indefinitely.
Mitchell, who describes herself as “a hugger” and her family as “very, very close,” remembers it was difficult to adjust to life without that physical contact, and, sadly, how it initially felt foreign when restrictions started to ease in April, and those connections were once again within reach.
They came after a year of living with the fear of inadvertently exposing Gage – affectionately called “Nan” – to COVID-19, despite following all the rules and taking all the precautions.
“Oh my gosh, our first big hug was April 1 – the first time, I want to say, almost since Nash was born,” she said. “It was kind of the most awkward hug, because it had been so long.
“It was almost like, oh my gosh, this is happening? Now, it’s second-nature.”
This week’s news that fully vaccinated visitors no longer have to schedule visits, wear masks or keep their distance from residents in their rooms is “absolutely” a big deal, Mitchell said. It means Mitchell and her partner can visit Gage together, the entire family can plan dinners and visits and outings, there’s no screening process for visits, and if Gage has plans to go out, “she signs herself out.”
“Just being able to celebrate,” Mitchell added. “Us being unmasked and being able to see people’s faces is huge.”
That latter piece alone has been interesting with Nash, she added. The tot’s life to date has consisted of interactions with mostly masked individuals, and now she and her partner get to watch as he processes that there’s “a whole other part” to people’s faces.
When it comes to her Nan, however, there’s still a hint of fear where COVID is concerned, Mitchell admits.
“Our family is still COVID-cautious,” she said, “because she is 95.”
“We still wear masks in the car… we’re still quite cautious with that, because that’s our biggest fear, is getting Nan sick, because even a cold for her is worrisome at times.”
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