Trudy Enns is trying to bring joy to her mother, and sometimes the joy spreads.
Betty Enns is a resident of Pleasant Manor. She has been there for 12 years, first living independently, then in assisted living, and for the last eight years, in long-term care.
Trudy visits her every day. But for the last four months, of course, her routine has had to change, with no visitors allowed inside.
“Her room is on the ground floor, so we can see her through her window, fortunately,” says Trudy. She makes sure she visits for about 45 minutes every day.
“But for four months we haven’t been able to go in and give her a hug, four months of no contact with her.”
Trudy is doing everything she can to keep her mother engaged, but it’s difficult to know what she’s thinking.
Betty, 92, has Alzheimer’s. She still knows Trudy and her sisters, and although she can’t hear much through the window, she can read the messages Trudy writes and holds up to her.
Trudy thinks her mother is “as well as she can be, in this situation,” but she can’t really know how it’s affecting her. She’s looking more lonely, depressed, and more confused than she was, “but it’s the same for everyone. There’s no way of being sure how much of it for her is because of the isolation caused by COVID. I really can’t tell how she’s feeling.”
Trudy, 65, is a familiar face to many in Niagara-
on-the-Lake. She worked for MB Foods for 18 years, she says, and is now at the Mennonite-run Christian Benefit Shop in St. Catharines.
She was laid off for a time because of the pandemic, and while at home, picked up a recorder that had been around for a while, and decided she’d learn how to play it. She plays the piano and viola, but although “every child in elementary school seems to learn how to play the recorder, I never did.”
Music has aways been a big part of family life, she says, and in the past, after helping her mother at meal time and chatting with her, Trudy would play the piano in the common area, for the enjoyment of other residents.
Now she takes her recorder. It’s a simple instrument, she says, and she’s learned a few hymns and tunes, including German folk songs. She stands outside, in the full, hot sun, and plays through the window. She also chats, is sure to smile, and sometimes makes funny faces, to get a reaction from her mother. Some days, she says, that’s easier than others. But what is most likely to draw a reaction is when Trudy and her two sisters all visit at once. “She loves to see us together. That makes her smile.”
Betty used to be a care-giver and worked with people with dementia, says Trudy. “She used to say it’s such a sad disease. She never wanted to go like this.”
The rules at the long-term care home have relaxed enough to allow outdoor visits. Visitors must have a negative COVID test every two weeks, wear a mask, and sit two metres away from the resident they’re visiting.
“I’m not sure what the right thing to do is now,” she says. “I’ve watched and talked to others who are visiting, and they are quite frustrated.”
Trudy says her mother used to talk about when she was young, and her mother was in the hospital with tuberculosis. Betty’s father would take her and her siblings to stand outside and wave at her mother — they couldn’t go inside.
“I wonder sometimes whether that is in her mind, but we’ll never know. This is such a mysterious disease.”
If Trudy were to ask to visit her mother outside, she still wouldn’t be able to touch her, and she thinks it might be more confusing and even frightening for her mother to see her in a mask, whereas they can see each other clearly through the window. “It’s hard to know which is better or worse,” she says. “I just wish I could hug and squeeze her.”
In the meantime, she will continue to stand at the window and play her recorder, and if there are other families visiting outside, “maybe it will bring them some joy.”