‘I miss him, and I know he is sad and scared’: Families separated during coronavirus outbreak share stories

Family members and others barred from visiting loved ones in Ohio nursing homes. The separation has led to everything from a canceled 100th birthday party to sadness.

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Credit: Submitted

Put plainly, Jean Johnson doesn't remember her daughter is her "daughter."

"When she looks at me, she doesn't know who I am, but I think she knows that there is a family connection. She knows we are very close," Deb Wiltshire said of her now 83-year-old mom.

Deb certainly remembers all the love her mom gave her before  Alzheimer’s Disease assaulted her mind.

And the Dayton VA Medical Center budget analyst says her mom not knowing her doesn’t make the fact that she can’t  visit her at a Beavercreek nursing home any easier.

As coronavirus cases began to grow in the state, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine on Friday ordered K-12 schools to shut down for three weeks starting March 16, prohibited mass gatherings of more than 100, and banned visitors at nursing homes and state psychiatric hospitals.

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Credit: Submitted

The governor has since ordered the closure of bars, restaurants, gyms, rec centers, movie theaters and other businesses.

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Before the order, Deb saw her mom five out of seven days to get her ready for bed and to do everything from putting lotion on her mom’s face to cleaning her dentures.

“ I don’t have to do that. I know the nursing home has staff, but she’s my mother,” Deb said. “It is an honor to take care of her.”

A married mom to two young adult sons, Deb said she last saw her mother Thursday, just prior to the ban on nursing home visitors took effect.

Now 83, Jean was active with friends and in her church until shortly before her condition became so severe that Deb and her brother made the tough decision to move her to assisted living and then a nursing home a year ago.

Deb said it is hard not to see her mother. The nursing home offers its parents access to phones and FaceTime, but Deb, who still does her mom’s laundry, said that is ineffective for her mom, who simply cannot remember conversations.

She hates the restrictions, but says she understands them.

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“I would like to see her, but I am still working. I am still going out in public. I don’t want to take that to her. And if I was the one who took that to her, I could not live with myself,” Deb said. “It might slow me down, but it might kill her. I know this is for the best. It sucks, but it is for the best. I don’t know what to equate it to, maybe child birth. This really sucks and we have no idea how long this is going to last.”


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Credit: Submitted

Phyllis Wrenn spent all-day Saturday crying over a canceled birthday.

The party wasn't hers, but it was for her mom, Eileen Shoemaker, who turned 100 years old Sunday.

“She had been looking forward to this since was was 99,” said Phyllis, a 71-year-old retiree and widow. “I sat here in my condo and cried most of the day. Not for myself, but for my mother.”

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The party was going to be a whopper, complete with flowers, cake from ele Cake Co., nearly 60 family members and friends and a local barbershop quartet arranged by Phyllis' daughter, Dr. Kristen Terranova, an OB/GYN in Columbus.

“Her baby sister is 87, which is pretty fun to say. (Cousins) were going to come. It was going to be cool,” Phyllis said.

It was easy to cancel the cake, flowers, room rental and even the barbershop quartet, Phyllis said.

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Credit: Submitted

“Everybody was understanding,” she said.

The party will be rescheduled with the barbershop quartet, Phyllis said.

She says the tough part is not being able to communicate with her mother, the eldest of nine siblings — seven of whom lived to adulthood — raised on a Darke County farm during The Great Depression.

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“They grew up with nothing,” Phyllis said of her mom’s large family. “Some people were OK. They were not.”

Phyllis said her grandparents often could only afford to feed their children molasses sandwiches.

“My mother hated molasses,” Phyllis recalled.

Eileen Shoemaker lived on her own on a Darke County farm until she was about 90. She outlived all but one sibling, her husband John Shoemaker, who died in 2006, and Phyllis' husband Thomas, who died in 2013.

Eileen moved to Laurelwood Senior Living about four years after staying with Phyllis and her husband about seven.

Her hearing has deteriorated over the years.

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“I have no way of talking to her (by phone). I am her advocate,” Phyllis, who typically visited her mom four or five times a week, said. “I talked to her head nurse, who is wonderful and she is trying to keep an eye on her, but they have their hands full. It is tough right now.”

Phyllis fears for the economy and for those left without work due to shutdown forced by the coronavirus emergency:  schools, restaurants, gyms, movie theaters, bars, etc.

“God is still in control,” Phyllis said. “I just want everyone to be careful and just follow directions.”


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Like many seniors in nursing homes cut off from family members and friends, John Juergens said his dad Carl Juergens is struggling.

“I was just talking to him. He is going to tell people he is doing fine, but I know he is not,” John said. “This is really hard.”

Now 89, Carl, his son’s former partner in Juergens and Juergens, a Springfield-based law firm, moved into a nursing home in November after his mobility became an issue. It has since improved.

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John says his dad generally likes the nursing home, referring to it as “a senior retirement center.”

John last saw his dad on Wednesday. Seeing the ban coming, he told him it would be the last time he’d be able to visit.

“He wasn’t surprised (by the announcement that nursing homes would close to visitors),” John said. “He just said, ‘I am just scared I won’t be able to see anybody for the next few months.”

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Credit: Submitted

John said his dad particularly misses his girlfriend, who is in her 70s and lives in the condo they once held.

“He just does not like the fact that he’s not going to be able to see her,” John added. “I feel bad for him. I miss him and I know he is sad and scared.”

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