Virus tears families apart as children strive to protect elderly by staying away
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Virus tears families apart as children strive to protect elderly by staying away

‘It dawned on me last night that I may never see, kiss or touch my sick father again before he dies,’ says one distraught daughter

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

A woman wearing protection mask looks on through the window, at San Martin nursing home, where several elderly people were infected by coronavirus in Vitoria, northern Spain, Thursday, March 19, 2020. Spain will mobilize 200 billion euros or the equivalent to one fifth of the country's annual output in loans, credit guarantees and subsidies for workers and vulnerable citizens, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced Tuesday. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some, it can cause more severe illness, especially in older adults and people with existing health problems. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)
A woman wearing protection mask looks on through the window, at San Martin nursing home, where several elderly people were infected by coronavirus in Vitoria, northern Spain, Thursday, March 19, 2020. Spain will mobilize 200 billion euros or the equivalent to one fifth of the country's annual output in loans, credit guarantees and subsidies for workers and vulnerable citizens, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced Tuesday. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some, it can cause more severe illness, especially in older adults and people with existing health problems. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)

“I’m an only child, my mother died when I was 17, and I’m very close to my dad, who is 76 and has chronic lung disease.

“With the new coronavirus regulations likely to stop me from leaving home, it dawned on me last night that I may not see him, kiss him or touch him again before he dies.”

Such are the harrowing thoughts passing through the mind of Sarah, a 52-year-old woman living in central Israel, as she — like the children of many elderly people across the country — tries to come to terms with the consequences of the growing lockdown aimed at slowing the pandemic’s spread.

Following meetings earlier this week involving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and officials from various ministries, Hebrew media has been reporting that more stringent rules will be introduced Wednesday to contain the virus, including instructing citizens to stay home and stray no further than a hundred meters.

An Israeli man walks past closed stores in the empty Mamila Mall in Jerusalem on March 23, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

“We’re very close,” said Sarah of her father Arye, who, after smoking for 50 years, suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and has to be on oxygen. He lives a couple of miles down the road with his Indian carer.

“I’m used to seeing him twice a week or more and we always spend the weekends together.

“But with his advanced age, lung disease and frailty, he’s at the highest possible risk from coronavirus. His caretaker is being really careful. He’s really freaking out. I’ve stayed away for the last two weeks. Dad hasn’t left the apartment at all.

“Today, I’m going to see him. He’ll go out onto the balcony and I’ll be down below.

“But I know it might be the last time that I see him face-to-face.”

A man stands near the body of Holocaust survivor Aryeh Even, 88, the first man to die in Israel from the coronavirus epidemic, at the Har HaMenuchot Cemetery in Jerusalem, early on March 22, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Sarah added, “The family of Aryeh Even [an 88-year-old Holocaust survivor and Israel’s first fatality from coronavirus, who was buried overnight Saturday] said they didn’t even have the chance to say goodbye. He died alone, and it’s heartbreaking.”

Splitting families across the land

Coronavirus is splitting families across the land, as children and grandchildren try to protect their elderly parents and grandparents from the pandemic by staying well away.

Online platforms such as FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp and Zoom enable computer literate seniors to maintain contact with the younger generations in their families. Other elderly parents are getting around the problem by staying close to the front door while the younger ones remain on the other side of the gate or stand at the bottom of the stairwell to keep a distance. Children who can still see their parents in nursing homes — many of which are now banning all visitors — sit several meters away, outside, on the lawns.

Said Sarah, “My dad contacted me once by FaceTime. He wanted to comfort me.

“The one thing that scares the heck out of him is having a problem with the internet.”

Illustrative photo of a an elderly man with a walking stick. (nito100/iStock/Getty Images)

Arye, who stayed at home for much of rainy January and February, says he hasn’t been out in 16 days because of the pandemic. “My health situation is sensitive and it’s enough that my carer has to go out once or twice a week to shop for groceries or pick up my medicines, ” he says. “Only today, we talked about what would happen if he gets the virus.

“There have been periods when Sarah was overseas and I didn’t see her for several months. I can talk to her on WhatsApp video and just hope this virus will be gone before too long. What really worries me though is that I have an 82-year-old brother in Holon (in central Israel). His wife’s sister is very sick [not with coronavirus] and is in hospital. My sister-in-law is in and out of the hospital visiting and my brother takes her and picks her up, and also takes the sister’s carer home. I can’t see my brother either.”

Oceans apart

David, meanwhile, is a 57-year-old, recently divorced, dental surgeon living in the UK.

He has two teenage sons and a 94-year-old mother who lives a 45-minute drive away in central London.

“Since our father died many years ago, and my sister went to live in Israel, my mom has come to depend upon me and my kids for company, connectivity and good times,” he said.

“She flew to Israel a couple of weeks ago at her incredible age, and with the admiration of all her friends, to visit my sister and her family, only to be quarantined at their home almost right away.

“For her, it’s a huge shock to the system. She’s away from the familiarity of her own home for an undefined period and she misses me and my kids massively. She keeps saying how unfair it is to be torn between her children in different countries. I see the sadness in her eyes when we FaceTime daily and feel her urge just to touch us if she could through the screen.

Illustrative photograph of an elderly woman walking with her son. (KatarzynaBialasiewicz/iStock/Getty Images)

“We have become so used to our lives being entwined that this forced separation is almost unbearable.

“In the small hours, I lie there thinking whether I will ever see her again or feel  her hug. I have no idea when we might be reunited.

“I am a frontline health worker in the UK and face this silent enemy every day. We don’t have the correct safety equipment but must nevertheless do as much as we can to treat the ill and those in pain. Their gratitude is heart-wrenching and reminds us why we chose a caring profession. Nonetheless, we still put our own loved ones at risk. It’s a horrible and a tearing choice to make.

“As we know, this kind of separation is happening all over the world and some people will never see their loved ones again, as if a glass partition has been placed between them, never to be breached.

Dentists, like many other health workers, are on the frontline of the coronavirus. (alfexe/iStock/Getty Images)

“The effects on mental health are not even a consideration at this acute time, but will unfold going forward.

“We are now in lockdown in the UK, later than most countries, and I am unable to come within two meters (six feet) of my new girlfriend, who is not supposed to see me, as we don’t strictly share a household.

“These times test all of us in so many different ways, and we can only pray that the enemy is beaten soon and that we may all come together again. We must believe that good will come of it and hopefully I’ll be able to hug my mom before it’s too late,” he said.

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